When I told a friend of mine that I was heading to a screening of Baby Mama, he immediately replied: "Oh, the Saturday Night Live movie?" Hmm -- well, sort of. The comedy -- which premiered at Tribeca and goes wide this weekend -- was produced by SNL honcho Lorne Michaels, and stars show veterans Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. On the other hand, it's not based on an SNL sketch, and doesn't feature any characters from the show.
Baby Mama's pre-release reputation as a "Saturday Night Live movie" probably isn't helpful: movies falling into that category don't have the best track record in the minds of people who pay attention. At the same time, the show has contributed a lot to the movies, mostly in its capacity as a breeding ground for comedic talent. This installment of Cinematical Seven collects films with an SNL connection that have actually been good, or in some way significant. I limited the pool to the last ten years; we all know that The Blues Brothers and Wayne's World are classics that started out as SNL sketches, but what has the show done for us lately?
1. Mean Girls
This Lorne Michaels-produced comedy was Tina Fey's feature screenwriting debut (she also had a small role), and the peak of Lindsay Lohan's short career. Fey's sensational sense of humor is on prominent display, and the movie is one of the wittiest teen flicks of the decade. It's full of brilliant comic set pieces, hilarious non sequiturs, and surprising insights, and it introduced the world to the lovely Rachel McAdams (no, The Hot Chick doesn't count).
2. The Simpsons Movie
The Simpsons, of course, has been a treasure trove in its own right over the past twenty years. But I bet you didn't know that many of that show's most prominent scribes cut their teeth on SNL's writing staff. That list includes George Meyer, Ian Maxtone-Graham, John Schwartzwelder and Jon Vitti, all of whom had a hand in last year's terrific big-screen outing. And that's to say nothing of Harry Shearer, an SNL alum whose voice work on The Simpsons (he plays Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner and Smithers, among many others) is invaluable.
Long one of the funniest and most reliable SNL regulars, Maya Rudolph kept up an unremarkable big-screen career for a while, popping up in tiny roles in the likes of 50 First Dates and Duplex. But 2006 marked two major milestones: a small part in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, and a prominent role in Mike Judge's unjustly dumped Idiocracy. In the latter, Rudolph played a prostitute sent into a massively dumbed-down future along with Luke Wilson's average joe. Her performance was hilarious and heartfelt, giving Judge's high concept some much-needed character. And of course, before Beavis and Butthead made Judge famous, he bided his time writing a little sketch called "Office Space" for -- what else? -- Saturday Night Live.
4. Fever Pitch
Okay, bear with me here. I was never much of a fan of Jimmy Fallon on SNL -- his impressions (except the one of John Mayer) tended to be kind of lame, and his tendency to crack up in the middle of the live broadcast was super-unprofessional. But man, was he ever perfect for the Farrelly Brothers' adorable baseball rom-com -- his second try at forging a film career after leaving the SNL cast in 2004. Puppy-dog likable and fundamentally sane enough to sell the off-kilter premise (obsessive Red Sox fan forced to choose between team and girlfriend) without making us hate the character, he blindsided me with competence and helped make the film a delight. He's since disappeared, and I'm not sure why.
5. Knocked Up
Many SNL comics, like Jimmy Fallon and (obviously) Will Ferrell, have tried to negotiate big starring roles shortly after first breaking into film. Sometimes, though, their talents are far better suited for comic bit parts (something I've long thought about Ferrell, though clearly the world disagrees). Witness Judd Apatow's second big-screen hit, which was enriched considerably thanks to brief appearances by SNL stalwarts Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Wiig, playing Katherine Heigl's impossibly bitchy co-worker, turned out to be one of the most memorable things about the film. Her reaction to being passed over a promotion in favor of Heigl ("I know, I was surprised, too!") is utterly priceless.
6. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Anchorman will be remembered as the last stage of Will Ferrell's ascent to stardom, finishing what Old School and Elf began. But there's another long-time SNLer whose film career took off with the 2004 comedy: Adam McKay, who finally quit writing for the show in 2007, after the success of Talledega Nights sealed his bankability. McKay and Ferrell would go on to found the hit website FunnyOrDie.com, which has served as the source for many a Cinematical post.
Mostly I just wanted to remind people of this charming, underrated revisionist Watergate comedy about a pair of high school girls who wander off during a field trip and wind up becoming Nixon's dog walkers. It just happens to be populated by a whole slew of then-current and former SNL cast members, including Ferrell, Shearer, Jim Breuer and Ana Gasteyer. Put it in your Netflix queue; it's pretty funny.