There's no business like "lady business" for Tina Fey, who coined the term in a Saturday Night Live commercial for the Woomba, a robotic feminine hygiene product.
Like much of Fey's humor, the joke made men blush while women thought someone had read their minds. Fey is the anti-Judd Apatow; switch the genders in her work and you'd have caveman comedy like Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Baby Mama isn't officially Fey's baby, as was her lauded screenplay
for Mean Girls or her sitcom 30 Rock. But she obviously hijacked Michael McCullers' movie, improvising with SNL's Amy Poehler.
Without that solid female perspective, Baby Mama could simply be The Odd Couple in Lamaze class. Fey and Poehler polished McCullers' script into something more substantive with jokes speaking from experience that men can't know. Now it's men's turn to wonder: "Do they really think like that?"
Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a nervously successful marketer of health food products. She has it all except for maternal bliss, but she can't conceive. Adoption takes too long — Kate is a real go-getter — so she hires a surrogate.
Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler) isn't a great choice but she's available, urged into her sixth, maybe seventh, pregnancy-for-pay by a shiftless husband (Dax Shepard). Angie is as irresponsible as Kate is uptight, as codependent as Kate is fussily independent. They can learn a lot from each other, and they will.
The movie features male characters who aren't entirely disrespected or blamed for women's woes. Greg Kinnear is more charming and less self-conscious than usual as Kate's potential suitor, while Shepard's character, even when abusive, is too stupid to take seriously, which is funny. Kate's boss is turned from a stereotypical office pig into a New Age nimrod, giving Steve Martin an excuse for silliness.
How two women find common ground sets Baby Mama apart from other preggo comedies. The movie looks beyond the bulging belly to the hormones and social expectations churning within. Not all of the jokes work — some sound like 30 Rock rejects — and some improvs strain for worthiness. Yet even in slack moments Baby Mama has Fey's and Poehler's subversive vibe going for it.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.