More than any other woman working in comedy today, Tina Fey has figured out how to charm men while speaking sisterly truth in a frequency heard only by other women. That’s an awesome skill, and with it comes awesome power. Forthright yet inclusive, tough yet effortlessly feminine, an alumna of SNL and the creator of a brilliant hit network sitcom, she has the means to affect our nation’s political discourse with a waggle of her trademark brainy-babe eyeglasses and one well-placed declaration. ”Bitch is the new black” will do for starters.
Baby Mama, a teeteringly uneven comedy, isn’t much of a conversation starter, but it does at least bring a politicized raised eyebrow to the sacred realm of pregnancy and motherhood among a certain estrogenically mindful population of entitled thirtysomethings. You’d think this most fertile of laugh territories would be a perfect Fey playground. And it is, at least when the star, as upscale 37-year-old executive Kate Holbrook, is seen in her natural career habitat as a woman holding her own among men. (Kate’s company runs a chain of health-food stores — a delicious contradiction in business models. Better yet, Steve Martin plays the New Age-y capitalist who runs the venture.) But then a longing for motherhood grips singleton Kate, whose inability to conceive leads her to comedy-sister-in-arms Amy Poehler as Angie Ostrowiski, a downscale surrogate with a womb for rent. And when pregnant Angie moves into her employer’s tasteful home, the contrasting foibles of class, socioeconomics, and wardrobe choices are all too broadly sketched by the two femme comrades.
Written by SNL alum Michael McCullers, who makes his directing debut with gawky visual inexperience, Baby Mama turns square midway through the pregnancy saga, then heads for a most un-Fey-like, aw-gee tale of happily-ever-after. There is, it turns out, a guy to fit our gal, and he’s played by Greg Kinnear; Angie, meanwhile, learns better nutrition and how not to urinate in the sink, and thus broaden her horizons. Poehler is as improv-sketch loose in her performance as Fey is measured, and both are challenged to a thespian throwdown by a fearsomely funny Sigourney Weaver as the smug head of the surrogacy agency. But although the big picture itself gets mushy, the small moments, especially involving Fey, are sharp. Every inch a woman who conveys an ease in her own skin, she has become a madame comedy ambassador of her sex, able to negotiate with the big boys, then relate the experience in a way that has the smart girls hooting with knowing laughter. B