The first time I heard the term "Baby Mama" was probably on either Maury or Jerry Springer (don't laugh... you hear a lot of things as you're flipping over to PBS). It and its male equivalent, "Baby Daddy," essentially describes a person with whom you've had a child, but no other relationship currently exists. It used to be street slang, but in a movie world where pregnancy of all types seems to be the hot, go-to topic (Juno, Knocked Up), the whole "baby mama" thing was sure to come up at some point. I just never thought it would come from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
In Baby Mama, which opens the Tribeca Film Festival tonight and arrives nationwide on April 25, Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a successful vice president of a Whole Foods-esque organic supermarket chain. She's got the great job and the stunning Philadelphia apartment, but at 37, she longs for something more. You guessed it: Kate wants kids, and doesn't want to wait until she gets married to have them. One little problem: her chances of actually having a child are one in a million ("I just don't like your uterus," is what Kate's fertility doctor, played by The Daily Show's John Hodgman, tells her).
Into Kate's life steps Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), a girl from the other side of the tracks who will serve as a surrogate, thanks to the very expensive services of surrogate supplier Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver). Angie and her husband -- "common-law," as he never fails to mention -- Carl (Dax Shepard) are crude and unrefined, and when Angie breaks up with Carl, she moves in with the prissy and anal Kate, setting in motion nine months of pregnancy hijinks. Only we find out there are some twists to this story, the least of which is Kate's burgeoning relationship with Rob (Greg Kinnear), a smoothie shop owner in a neighborhood she's scouting for a new store.Mike McCullers, who worked with Fey and Poehler on Saturday Night Live and worked on all three Austin Powers movies, wrote and directed Baby Mama. This is his first directorial effort, and it shows in his by-the-book, basic direction. In essence, the movie is a very standard romantic comedy wrapped around the great chemistry of the two leads, who have been riffing off each other since they met fifteen years ago at Chicago's Improv Olympic theater. In fact, Poehler carries most of the comedic load here, especially when Angie's dealing with Kate's overly picky ways; despite its overexposure in the fim's advertising, the scene where Angie goes to the bathroom in the sink because she can't figure out how to open a baby-proofed toilet is one of the funniest in the movie.
When Fey's by herself, though, the movie drags. The romantic plot with Kinnear is about as predictable as one can get, including an ending that could be seen coming from across the Delaware River. The big problem is that Fey plays a more successful, together version of Liz Lemon, her character on 30 Rock, and that togetherness translates to a character who isn't all that funny. She's there to be a straight woman to Poehler, and in that function, she does a great job. But as a lead in a romantic comedy? That formula doesn't quite work.
Thanks to Fey and executive producer Lorne Michaels, the film is heavy with SNL cast members in various roles. In addition, Steve Martin makes a memorable (and uncredited) appearance as Fey's boss, a hippie/mogul who founded the organic supermarket company she works for. It's one of his funniest roles in years and it makes me long for the days when Martin used to play comedic characters instead of put-upon dads or depressives. It's kind of similar to how I feel about Baby Mama: it's an enjoyable movie, but I just wish there was more hilarity and less sincerity.