Told that she cannot have children, successful 37 year-old health food executive Kate (Fey) employs a surrogate in the form of mouthy white trash Angie (Poehler). When Angie moves into Kates apartment, the road to motherhood proves very bumpy.
If you have never heard of Tina Fey then you are in for a treat. For a proper education in the warmly self-effacing sarcasm of the woman shaping up to be a less hairy Judd Apatow, you should ideally start with either her scripting debut Mean Girls or 30 Rock, a sitcom she writes and stars in which is the funniest thing currently on TV. But this, her first film as lead actress, is a good crib notes introduction.
Baby Mama is a bit like a mellower Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor movie, if both had had better hair and one of them had got pregnant. Fey takes the Wilder side, with embarrassed, self doubting politeness forming a thin crust of sensibility over a wobbly core of whackjob; Amy Poehler is the Pryor-type, mouthy and enthusiastically inappropriate, but ultimately good hearted. With a relationship formed over years on Saturday Night Live, Poehler and Fey fit together seamlessly, divvying up the best lines and stepping back and forth from the limelight as benefits the biggest laugh. The balance and ease between the two means that set-piece moments, like Kate (Fey) abandoning inhibitions (and dignity) for enthusiastic clubbing or Angie (Poehler) battling her meathead boyfriend, hit their targets, but also that throwaway moments, like the two women briefly playing a karaoke game, garner effortless laughs.
It’s surprising to learn that Baby Mama was not written by Fey, given how well it fits her usual voice. Full scripting credit is given to director Michael McCullers, a writer on the last two Austin Powers movies, for whom this film represents his best overall work. But the tone is very much Fey’s - that of a cynic fighting to be an optimist. The only time it falters is in an obvious ending that seems cobbled together in a panic because everyone was having too much fun to notice the credits approaching.
Baby Mama is a rare thing: it’s a movie that focuses on female concerns, but in no way is it - for want of a less patronising term - a chick flick. Good comedy knows no gender, and be you woman, man or any sentient being with a funny bone, you will find boundless delight in two people doing what they do best: being very, very funny.
Fey and Poehler are better than 95 per cent of the innumerable male comedy double acts around at the moment. May they never part, because their work here is an utter joy.