It's funny to go up to the movie-theater counter and say, "One for Baby Mama." And, fortunately, that's only the beginning of the fun.
At its most basic, Baby Mama is a fine vehicle to reunite Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the talented comedians who had great chemistry together on Saturday Night Live a few years back. Fey is Kate Holbrook, a single corporate executive whose biological clock has kicked in. She's got baby mania, but adoption is going to take years and artificial insemination fails because of a tricky uterus. She opts for having a surrogate mother. In comes Poehler as Angie Ostrowiski, a "white trash" girl who could use the money surrogacy pays.
Fey did not write Baby Mama, and that's probably a good thing. Though she created and is currently the standout writer and actress on arguably the best show on TV right now, 30 Rock, and though she brought some quality back to SNL while serving as head writer, there is such a thing as too much Tina Fey. Her comedy is a bleach of snark, manic self-doubt, pop-culture aggression, and lily-white squareness, and mixing it with a little water was prudent for a feature-length film.
The "water" in the analogy is Baby Mama writer and first-time director Michael McCullers (Undercover Brother, the two Austin Powers sequels, and SNL). His script is funny and does right by the protagonists, and the film is full of knowing observations about the process of a pregnancy and the fears of the unknown experienced by future parents.
But there's little doubt Baby Mama was written by a man, and it's probably no coincidence that the lead character is a woman using a surrogate rather than a woman who's pregnant herself. When Kate asks Angie what it feels like inside when the baby kicks, Fey's character at that point isn't much more than a baby-daddy cliché from any other movie. When Angie answers that it feels like eating a meatball and then the meatball kicks you, it's a perfectly funny, masculine answer.
It may also be why Baby Mama wanders from the main topics of pregnancy and motherhood so often, showing more interest in how Kate and Angie fit together as characters; why a major subplot delves into the corporate goings-on of the whole-foods company Kate works for; why it wades into the differences between authenticity and well-meaning trendiness; and why it takes the time to observe how class and education are expressed by what culture we consume.
Supporting actors are asked to play just one note each, but it works: Steve Martin as a pony-tailed capitalist hippie; Sigourney Weaver as a woman who's endlessly fertile even though she's as old as Sigourney Weaver; Holland Taylor as Kate's opinionated mother; Maura Tierney as Kate's serene sister, a mommy herself.
It's all very good. Heck, even Greg Kinnear comes out looking all right.