'Some women get pregnant; some get promotions," a character says in '"Baby Mama." The question writer/director Michael McCullers asks in his new film is: Can a 37-year-old single woman have both?
After being casually upbraided by her OB/GYN ("I just don't like your uterus"), dejected, yearning Kate (Tina Fey) is nonetheless determined to become a mom. She works at a natural foods empire for a creepy '70s throwback, new-age guru played by Steve Martin, who shines in a role quite different from his usual (of late) supportive dads. His narcissistic hippie aura keeps Kate on her toes and sufficiently distracted, and between her job as vice president and trying to become pregnant, the ultraorganized Kate appears a bit overwhelmed. In an endearing and extremely sympathetic performance, "30 Rock" star Fey seems alternately desperate, maternal, hopeful and pitiful.
Making matters worse, her cheery younger sister Caroline (a delightfully laid-back Maura Tierney) has adorable rugrats galore. Their mom (Holland Taylor) adds some much needed political incorrectness, when she warns: "Just don't get a black baby."
When Kate finally resorts to surrogacy, the constant thorn in her side takes the archly formal form of Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver, wearing a sinister perma-smile), who not only runs the agency, but becomes pregnant "the old fashioned way," despite being "ready for Social Security." Upbeat and hilariously insipid, Chaffee equates surrogacy with "outsourcing" and then pairs Kate with Angie, whom Kate later sums up as "an ignorant white-trash woman that I paid to have my kid."
Gifted with perfect timing and heartfelt facial expressions, Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live") is outstanding, nuanced yet totally believable as Angie, the girl we want "to go clubbin' with." At once thoughtful and childish, Angie remains a realist and difficult not to feel a bit sorry for.
The most uproarious scenes are those in which Kate adjusts to living with Angie, and tries (in vain) to influence nearly every aspect of Angie's comparatively wild lifestyle. In a rare serious moment of reflection, Kate admits to her baby mama-to-be: "It makes me crazy that you get to feel it, experience it, while I just get to watch."
Also eager to cash in on the big fee is Angie's "common law" husband Carl, a rowdy, tattooed and downright déclassé Dax Shepard, who makes for a stark contrast to Kate's refined colleagues and threatens to "bang" all of Angie's friends if he doesn't get his way.
In the midst of her Angie adventures and corporate climbing, Kate's only weakness is the charming, down-to-earth Rob (Greg Kinnear), who runs the local juice bar. Warm yet rather opinionated, he seems confused but nonetheless interested. Unaware of her recent investment, Rob smugly assures his date, "You don't have to be married to have a kid."
My personal hero of this entire twisted rattle shake: Oscar, Kate's friendly, supportive and always amusing doorman. Though the role is small, Romany Malco gives a pitch-perfect performance in which he not only befriends both women but remains cool and sensible throughout.
Pregnancy, motherhood, big business, what McCullers neatly sidesteps is whether a baby needs a father. While his entertaining male characters are larger than life and at times behave like babies, they are not presented as essential.
While the ending can be seen miles away, this comedic take on a problem all too familiar to working women of a certain age offers a silly yet gently encouraging glimmer of hope: single or married, mama or mega-career, neither or both; all are OK.