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David Poland

By David Poland

Baby Nah Nah

Sorry… but comedy is harder than it looks… even for pros who are strapping on the directing jodhpurs for the first time.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a terrific idea with some interesting talent, desperately in need of a director and a producer. And now, Baby Mama is a terrific idea with two extremely compelling actresses… in desperate need of a producer to tell the writer that, 1) he can’t direct and 2) that the script needs work on the story level and 3) just because Mike Myers improved a lot of Wayne’s World does not mean that Amy Pohler can save his story problems by making faces, even if she gets laughs.
Universal is smartly selling only the first act of Baby Mama, because if they told you where it was going, you wouldn’t show up. People want to see the uptight working woman learn about life from the wild white trash chick. But someone told writer/”director” Mike McCullers that the big heartwarming turn that is an old tradition on these films would be a good idea. But it misses by a mile. The hard part is that fightingthe studio “make the characters more likeable” thing was right too. But the “not obvious” choices must be elegant. It’s just that making warmth work from the bones of a farce is a mile tall order… few make it… as is proven again here.
We’re getting more and more of these near-miss comedies in light of the Apatow success. And I find it wildly frustrating, as in both of these cases, a better movie was sitting there, waiting for a bright, critical voice pushing the writers and first-time directors to be more demanding of themselves. (There is a reason why Apatow hires unexpected, but experienced and hungry directors for so many of the films he produces.)

21 Responses to “Baby Nah Nah”

  1. IOIOIOI says:

    What Heat should have typed is; “Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a terrific film with some interesting talent workinh with truly inspired director and a producer.” Do not be hating, sir. It does not suit you. Unless it’s Baby Momma. A flick that demonstrates that Amy Pohler is best when working with… her husband.

  2. LexG says:

    FSM is the hardest I’ve laughed at any movie in who knows how long. I’ll concede that there’s some awkward editing and sloppy filmmaking — a few scenes seem to be missing entitrely (based on dialogue bits that refer to moments that don’t exist), supporting characters appear and disappear at random, sometimes never to come back.
    But in terms of big laughs, I’d put it against 40YOV and way ahead of KU any day.

  3. The problem I have with these posts is that you seem to treat your subjective opinion as an objective truth. As it stands, FSM has 85% on the Tomatometer, so I wouldn’t exactly call it a “near-miss” at an objective level.
    Although, how can opinions be objective, so I guess my argument doesn’t make any sense either.

  4. teambanzai says:

    Here’s my criteria for a comedy. Did it make me laugh at a good ratio to run time? If yes no complaints. If no move on.

  5. leahnz says:

    i hear that, banzai, but i want more from a movie, especially as i get older and apparently grumpier, as movies don’t seem to make me laugh as much as back in the day; remember coming out of ‘trading places’ or ‘caddyshack’ back in the day (bloody hell, some of you probably weren’t even an embryo then), and to this day the dvd makes you laugh your ass off? i want that.
    i’m easily amused and recent comedies make me laugh in places (like the guy that accidentally takes acid or whatever it was at ‘death at a funeral’, he was hilarious, or the cringe-inducing humour of ‘borat’) but i want to FEEL something, i want to be SATISFIED… i came out of ‘little miss sunshine’ with a big smile on my face, and ‘bad santa’ is pretty fucking priceless, but i think making good comedy is a bitch and they are few and far between of late

  6. jeffmcm says:

    I agree, Leah. Borat was funny, but I never need to see it a second time, because there wasn’t anything in it that really sank in or had any depth, to me. Something like 40 Year Old Virgin, on the other hand, or Shaun of the Dead I find to be a lot more satisfying.

  7. leahnz says:

    shaun of the dead! amen, brother, an absolute classic. i am officially going senile.
    actually, the gears in my head got to whirring, thinking about really top shelf comedy in, say, the last five years or so, what are some faves out there? have i missed some real pearlers? my list is so short (royal tennenbaums, shaun, bad santa, lmsunshine..) but i refer again to the last sentence of the previous paragraph in my defence…

  8. jeffmcm says:

    I’d add Sideways, A Mighty Wind, and Mean Girls (which is a lot better when you can remove yourself from the Lindsay Lohan media circus).

  9. brack says:

    I just caught Walk Hard the other day, and couldn’t stop laughing. It also made the Dewey Cox character believable in an unbelievable movie. It’s a shame it didn’t do better in the theaters (a terrible release date, too many movies out all ready, and an R rated comedy on Christmas? yikes.), but I predict it’s going to be a favorite on DVD.

  10. leahnz says:

    i’m hanging my head in shame, muttering three little words: school of rock. raise your goblet to the god of rock! i watch that movie with the boy, and copious laughter and joy ensues without fail.
    sideways, of course, a bitter-sweet gem of a movie, gives me a glow like lmsunshine; i’m ashamed to say pretty much everything i know about wine i learned from ‘sideways’, and to this bloody day i will not drink any fucking merlot! seriously. i like ‘mean girls’ but i suspect that might be due to my weird rachel mcadams fixation, if i fancied women she’d be my cup of tea (must rent ‘mighty wind’, i’ve never seen it, and the previews of ‘cox’ looked funny, i’ll get that too when i comes out).
    there must be others, that can’t be it… where’s our modern day ‘after hours’? the next ‘blazing saddles’? who will save us with laughter?

  11. Hallick says:

    Television’s been a lot funnier than most theatrical comedies. A single of episode of “30 Rock” probably has better laughs than the entirely of Baby Mama. And almost any episode of “The Office” from the first couple of seasons is definitely going to herniate me before 99% of what I’ve seen in a theater in the last three or four years. The Tenacious D show from HBO is still light years funnier than The Pick of Destiny.
    But there have been SOME greats out there: Kung Fu Hustle & Shaolin Soccer, Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz, Superbad, Accepted, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Ghost Rider (unintentionally, but still funny), Orange County, Dodgeball…
    I think you can only expect two or three genuine laugh-your-lungs-out comedies in a given year, and MAYBE one of these is going to be that special kind of film that’ll stay great forever. But I don’t mind if a movie is only great the one time either. Borat is the perfect example of that kind of comedy, and there’s nothing wrong with that (even though I haven’t seen it a second time to test that hypothesis). One laugh wonders don’t get the credit they deserve when they get compared to those energizer bunny types all the time.
    But then, comedy isn’t the only genre with this “problem”. I still haven’t seen something that comes close to matching the experience I had watching Serenity; and it’s going to be a lonnnnnnnng time before another movie like Once is going to come along.

  12. Geoff says:

    Comedies like Trading Places, Stripes, A Fish Called Wanda, and The In-Laws will always hold a special place in my heart for me, and it is hard to find stuff on that level in recent years – I think the main reasoning is editing. With the exception of Stripes (while the last act was entertaining, the Winnebago thing did go on too long), those films were much tighter and ended when they needed, to end.
    I love the Apatow ouvre, but most of his films (with the exception of Superbad) are 15 to 20 minutes too long. I know, it’s becoming an old argument, but it even held with Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
    In today’s marketplace, it doesn’t even make sense to release comedies in theaters, this way – it’s so easy to just save the excess improv stuff for the “extended, unrated director’s cut” on DVD. Keep it to 90 minutes and just save the other 45 minutes for the DVD release – what’s the harm in that?
    I did not have the pleasure of seeing 40 Year Old Virgin in theaters and the first time was the “extended cut” on DVD, which was only available through Netflix at the time – I was intially very disappointed. It was funny and all, but I was an hour into this thing and he hadn’t even gone on a date with Catherine Keener, yet.
    Then I saw the theatrical version on HBO several months, later, and even though the original version was still too long, it was much better.

  13. Dr Wally says:

    There HAS to be more to a successful comedy than just how many belly laughs it can provide. You need to have more meat on the bone. After all, Big Momma’s House is hysterically funny despite being crap, while Shakespeare In Love would stand a better chance of raising the dead than raising a laugh. Both are comedies. Which is the better movie? Great comedies need strong characters and filmmaking just like any other genre. Groundhog Day, Juno, Sideways, 40YOV, Knocked Up, even Talladega Nights, all fit that criteria for me.

  14. “i suspect that might be due to my weird rachel mcadams fixation, if i fancied women she’d be my cup of tea”
    I don’t know why, but that made me roffle.

  15. moodring38 says:

    David, I tried to find your email address but couldn’t – and I searched all over the internet to find out who you are p so I hope you read this. I was at the Trebeca film festival the other night and some really gross looking guy – he was short, fat looked like a cross between a human and a frog, was talking about you with other people and saying somne REALLY nasty stuff that I won’t get into here. He may work in the business. We found out his name was “Roger” but couldn’t get his last name. It was INCREDIBLY defamatory. Please email me

  16. Cadavra says:

    Track down THE IMPOSTORS, a Stanley Tucci/Campbell Scott farce that made me laugh harder than almost any other feature in the decade since.

  17. leahnz says:

    i remember ‘the impostors’, isn’t oliver platt in it as well? yet another great funny from the days of yore (the 90’s)… i’ll add it to my list of flicks to hunt down in the rental isles

  18. Chucky in Jersey says:

    Chick Flick … no
    Comic book movie … yes
    Franchise … yes
    Name-Checking to promote movie … yes
    Oscar-Whoring to promote film … yes
    Remake … yes
    Sequel … yes
    TV-based movie … yes
    Such must be the worldview of those who post here.

  19. jeffmcm says:

    Chucky, why don’t you please elaborate on what on Earth you’re talking about?
    Granted, there are a lot of men here, so chick flicks are going to be less popular than comic book movies; otherwise, it sounds like all you’re saying is “People in these here parts sure have shitty taste!” and I think if that’s what you want to say, you should just say it, or not.

  20. Rob says:

    Baby Mama and FSM, to my eyes, both suffer from forced, rickety plotting, but both have incredibly appealing performances and big, frequent laughs. So I’ve been recommending them to other people.

  21. hcat says:

    The greatest comedy (and perhaps film)of this decade is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not a lot of guffaws but it has such a wonderfully desperate gonzo feel to it.
    About a Boy is also up there, its not as sunny as the other Working Title comedies and that undercurrent of depression keeps the sacherinne at bay. The scripter for that went on to direct Pieces of April and Dan in Real Life, both of which are about sad uncomfortable people and had me laughing my ass off.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin