Where sex has always been an essential (if often implicit) part of the romantic comedy or drama, lately these genres have been shaken up by a shift in focus from sex as an expression of love to fertilisation as a method of making babies. Recent films like Knocked Up (2007), Juno (2007) and Then She Found Me (2007) have all taken the mechanics of pregnancy (wanted, unwanted, or surrogate) as their theme – and now along comes Baby Mama as the runt of a bountiful litter.

"Some women got pregnant, I got promoted," successful businesswoman Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) explains in the film's opening sequence. "I want a baby now, I'm 37." Needless to say, her blind date rapidly flees the scene, leading Kate to conclude that she will need to consider different options. The adoption agency, however, is not interested, and when it turns out that Kate has the wrong-shaped uterus to accommodate a deposit from the sperm bank, she seeks an introduction to a potential surrogate.

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Relaxed, low-rent Angie (Amy Poehler) is the polar opposite of uptight, upwardly mobile Kate in both temperament and class – but that is OK, given that Angie is just bearing Kate's child, not living with her – but then Angie splits with her common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepard) and shows up, homeless and in the early stages of pregnancy, at Kate's immaculate apartment – and before you can say 'monstrous hybrid', the seed of The Odd Couple (1968) is lodging in the egg of Baby Boom (1987).

While certainly amiable enough, Michael McCullers' directorial debut is, like the gestation that it portrays, somewhat sloppily conceived and capable of delivering no more than what is expected. The two leads' fractious yet complementary relationship, Kate's blossoming liaison with divorced dad Rob (Greg Kinnear), Angie's poorly planned deception and last-minute change(s) of heart, and even the over-contrived happy ending, are all in strict adherence to well-established formulae, and will surprise no one. There is even, during the climactic crisis, a shamelessly clichéd (and apparently irony-free) montage of key characters looking wistful. McCullers' direction is serviceable, but also bland.

Hanging from the ready-made plot are scenes where Kate and/or Angie have encounters with a series of wacky characters, whose antics, while often funny, seem at odds with the film's core sympathies. Is it really appropriate to mock a birthing teacher (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) for her speech impediment in a film of a broadly feminist bent? And in a film so concerned with an ageing woman's desire to have a baby, why on earth is the preternaturally fecund surrogacy agent Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver) subjected repeatedly and uncomfortably to ageist jokes? The absurd boardroom shenanigans of Kate's hippie-dippy-yuppie boss Barry (Steve Martin) may be an irrelevant distraction from the main event, but at least they do not run counter to it.

These episodes feel like gratuitous padding, and are little more than comic sketches, betraying McMullers' past as a writer for Saturday Night Live. It is, however, to the credit of both Fey and Poehler, themselves alumnae of Saturday Night Live, that they extract the maximum of laughs from every line, and bring more than enough individual charisma and mutual rapport to their characters to ride through all the tonal inconsistencies.

Baby Mama will certainly divert you for its running time, and even have you chuckling – but coming at a time when our cinemas have been bulging with adventurous, left-field films about maternity, this Baby comes close – but no cigar.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2008
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Two women, one apartment and the nine months that will change their lives.
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Festivals:

Tribeca 2008

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If you like this, try:

Knocked Up