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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 36.36%
Just Average: 13.64%
Pretty Crappy: 9.09%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 16 user ratings

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Baby Boom
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Wonderful Romantic Comedy!"
4 stars

Diane Keaton is atypically winning in this winning comedy.

While 1987's Three Men and a Baby was a box-office smash, the lesser-known, less-heralded comedy Baby Boom of that same year was the more consistent and better of the two. Both films deal with the comical goings-on when elite Manhattan professionals find themselves dealing with a dropped-upon-them infant they have no earthly idea how to take care of. Juggling high-pressure jobs with endless deadlines while trying to take care of a baby is as trying to them as, say, it is for the majority of American families. But these single professionals have purposely isolated themselves from the possibility of encountering and taking on such a huge parental responsibility; by the time they get home from the office they've barely enough time to take care of themselves, much less a baby -- a task that takes ten times the effort, so their being unprepared takes quite a considerable toll. They soon wind up in their own kind of blue-collar hell: with the added responsibility, they're essentially moonlighting to fulfill both their everyday and new responsibilities.

Three Men and a Baby made for an appealing entertainment, but there were too many contrived bits (e.g. stinky diapers) and subplots (e.g. menacing drug dealers) distracting from the entertaining premise. There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but there were also far too many dead spots dissipating the film's ingratiating spirit. In contrast, Baby Boom doesn't have so much as a single laugh-out-loud moment yet is uncommonly measured and deliberate in its putting a constant smile on your face throughout. Instead of "moments", it offers up a series of smoothly connected instances that play off each other beautifully. You feel as if what you're watching could conceivably happen given the circumstances, and the absence of sensationalistic excess in the plotting and execution comes off not only as intelligent, but absolutely essential for the sake of the story. I've always believed that a weak screenplay needs trumped-up, contrived instances to pad out the running time and keep audiences interested because there wouldn't be nearly enough viable material to substantiate a feature-length film. Baby Boom may not be anything of a revelation in the screenplay department, mind you, but at least what it presents it backs up, delivers upon instead of dropping and replacing with the kind of attention-getting disposables that pass for invention in Hollywood (and with audiences) nowadays.

Oscar-winner Diane Keaton headlines the film as J.C. Wiatt, a magna cum Harvard-educated executive with an eighty-hour work week, a drab personal life with live-in attorney geek Steven (an underused Harold Ramis), and her eye on a partnership at the firm. She's nicknamed "The Tiger Lady" in the work circle because she's all business, no play, and talented as hell at her job. Co-workers come to full attention when J.C. enters the scene, and you sense this is the kind of woman who's respected a whole lot more as a thriving professional than as an even remotely likable human being -- which is fine with J.C., who sees the world as a series of limited opportunities that need grabbing at any given moment, and being prepared to grab those moments is the utmost important position you can work yourself towards, she believes Everything that gets in the way of that is disposable in J.C.'s view: if her love life is uninspired, then that's one less thing to distract her from getting what she wants; and if she's insensitive to her co-workers' personal needs, then she's simply installing in them the necessary cutthroat approach to succeed in the business world; and if by life's end she's had no family of her own, then that was a necessary sacrifice in attaining her dream.

We've met characters like J.C. in countless films before. They're conceived as having ice in their veins and badly in need of a huge injection of warm sensitivity fused throughout their system, snapping them out of their steely, impersonal intensity and alerting them to the possibilities that a rich and rewarding personal life can bring. The film year of 1991, in particular, offered up a series of these transform-the-yuppie tales, ranging from Regarding Henry, City Slickers, Life Stinks, Shattered, and The Doctor (with only the latter succeeding at convincing us of its lead character's emotional transformation). In Baby Boom, Keaton clues you into J.C.'s willingness to give up whatever's necessary to get to the top; her knowingness, and her unapologetic accepting of that, is, in a lot of ways, admirable for a fictional character.

Life couldn't be better for J.C., until, late one night, she receives a phone call informing her of her British cousin's sudden death. Being the only remaining kin, J.C. is to be the benefactor of the estate. Immediately, she starts thinking oodles of money are on the horizon; the next morning, she awaits the estate lawyer at the airport with unconcealed glee. As it turns out, however, she's awarded custody of her cousin's orphaned baby daughter, Elizabeth, instead. She naturally balks and refuses -- which she's still doing, with baby in hand, as the lawyer already takes herself over to the next departing plane. With an important business meeting with a potential client in a half-hour, J.C. doesn't have so much as a measly minute to adequately access and contemplate her sprung-upon situation. And it's here that the filmmakers either drop the ball or they don't, whether they're talented and mature enough to develop rather than exploit the ensuing comic mishaps, or whether they're the mediocre and insecure type who favor piling on the excesses to appease prime-time tv-junkies' thirty-second attention spans. (In light of my favorable star rating of the film, the answer to this is obvious as to which.)

To get an initial objection out of the way, considering J.C.'s high-dollar bankroll, I was perplexed why she didn't just start dumping the little bugger off in a day care while she was at work. Instead, she brings Elizabeth to the office and is always trying to keep her quiet, cradle and rock her, which leads to (among other things) her accidentally squirting milk from a bottle onto a client after having just removed a toy out from under his seat on her plush office couch. After a couple of hours, J.C.'s easily entering breakdown territory. Yet an exemption clause is discovered in the estate paperwork, clearly stating that if J.C. should feel she's not adequate to the task at hand, she's free to give up Elizabeth to an adoption agency. But after meeting with a prospective couple -- a Bible-toting Midwestern pair ("Will she do hon'?" "I reckon'.") -- J.C. amazes even herself by taking the child away and assuming full-parental responsibilities ("Don't expect too much from me, okay?", she tells Elizabeth before they're even out of the building).

Rather than belaboring the obvious and detailing J.C.'s endless ordeals with dirty diapers and insistent baby crying, the screenplay wisely establishes a mature view of things by not hinging the success of the film on such antics. The Manhattan scenes comprise just half of the film, with the second half taking place in small-town Hadleyville, Vermont, where J.C. relocates to after resigning after her trainee (an appropriately smarmy James Spader) is promoted and assigned to take over her big account at the instruction of her boss (the always-welcome Sam Wanamaker). J.C. buys a handsome two-story house in the country and at first is beguiled over the privacy and tranquility to it all -- she might as well be on another planet, as far as she's concerned. However, things start to go awry before too long: the house's entire plumbing system needs to be replaced; the roof soon follows; and to really solidify Murphy's Law, right after the new plumbing's been installed, the well dries up, leaving little option but to tap into the city's water line, with a resulting skyrocket cost in the mid-thousands.

Again, none of this is strained or overplayed in too broad a manner. In Chevy Chase's uproarious 1988 Funny Farm, the jabs at small-town Vermont were perfectly in keeping with the novel's darkly funny and satirical tone. With Baby Boom, we're not expected to guffaw at J.C.'s inability to catch a break, but to lay further witness to an intelligent anal-retentive experiencing the inability to control all of the factors in one's life. J.C. has spent most of her life in domineering mode, oblivious to the other pleasures in life afforded those who can see beyond balance sheets and stock market projections. It's not that she's unresponsive to pleasurable stimuli; it's that in her closed-off, Filofax-dependent world she's left herself little downtime to relax and extrapolate (which might be indicative of a past meaningful relationship having gone bad, which propelled her to seal off her personal life from the kinks she can't control with the business-related ones that she can).

So it's not too surprising that upon hearing the town's only plumber (who's making a financial killing on her recent misfortunes) recite the latest estimate, J.C. finally has a breakdown -- and a terrifically funny one, at that. She's changed a bit since leaving the business world, so instead of ordinarily going off on the deliverer of bad news she lurches about in circles and helplessly waves her arms about while shouting, and rather than seething with rage she's simply dumbfounded with exasperation, with the words "They didn't teach this in business school, damnit!" seeming to endlessly shout throughout her head. To maintain some tranquility, J.C. begins busying herself by cooking up batches and batches of an original baby food she's concocted and packaging them in adorable little designer jars, which eventually become a hot property and land a substantial offer from the same client whose project she was taken off of. Throw in a late-in-the-game love interest in the person of local veterinarian Dr. Jeff Cooper (an appealing Sam Shepard), and you have a film that pretty much covers all the bases without coming off as too perfunctory.

This is by far the best screen work delivered by Diane Keaton, who was overrated before this and after as well. She's only as good as her material -- unlike a truly great actress, she can't enrich a role or make it play better than is written -- which is why she failed to impress in her paltry secondary role in The Godfather films. And even when the role is big and good, sometimes she still can't seem to aptly lock onto and vivify it, as Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Reds demonstrated. Keaton's mostly an aloof, overdeliberate and limited actress with little range who's best when getting an easy rapport going with a co-star, which didn't happen with Al Pacino in The Godfather but did with Albert Finney in Shoot the Moon and Yorgo Voyagis in The Little Drummer Girl. (To this day, though, I still assert that her Oscar win for Annie Hall was undeserved because her showy and eccentric role was virtually foolproof.)

As J.C., she isn't excellent or anything, but she isn't bad, either. Keaton moves with confidence yet isn't as held-in as usual; she seems to have thought her line readings through, sometimes pausing a crucial second or two before answering (or even reacting), which is perfect for the role of a smart person whose success has come from contemplating, from taking the time to read the signs while others act on feelings and instinct. (It's more than a bit amusing that in playing a hard-ass corporate exec, Keaton is more emotionally fluid here than she was as the ever-liberal Annie Hall.) For once, she shows confidence on the silver screen, with the charisma and looseness to justify our directing our attention to and investing our trust in her for a change. Furthermore, without those dreadful Annie Hall-ish glasses adorning her in just about every film and her gorgeous auburn hair worn longer than usual, Keaton's allowed the chance to display the beauty behind her overhyped baggage. Having favorably granted her all of that, however, I must confess that Annette Bening (before she got Warren-ed, that is) would have made this role sing and scream with sizzling authenticity.

Baby Boom is hardly a laugh-a-minute comic classic of the likes of Blake Edwards' Blind Date or Robert Zemeckis' Used Cars, both of which depicted a working-class American up to their neck in pandemonium while undergoing a more positive crossover in their lives. But those films were larger in scale and more ambitious, whereas Baby Boom isn't out to serve you up anything more grandiose than a good time. Then again, that's how the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers have always worked. From the old school of filmmaking, they show uncommon affection and dedication to the rudiments of good storytelling by keeping their story facets in check, and building the action through character and incident, rather than solely by incident. They're far from visionaries -- with Shyer's mediocre visual sense and the familiar story lines limiting their films in scope -- but they at least show respect for the audience by not labeling every character with an overobvious emotional tag and trotting out story turns so generic they could be branded with barcodes.

I was far from a fan of Shyer/Meyers' Father of the Bride comedies (which Keaton also starred in), but they endeared themselves to me nearly eighteen years ago with their wonderful Irreconcilable Differences, where Drew Barrymore played an eight-year-old seeking to divorce herself from her successful but unattentive, self-centered Hollywood parents (Ryan O' Neal and Shelley Long, both of whom gave career-best performances). In what could have resulted in a terminal case of "the cutes", the offbeat story premise was intelligently developed, the characters were three-dimensional, and the result was both hilarious and heartbreaking, unflinching yet life-affirming. Skipping forward to their 1994 bomb I Love Trouble, which featured the unlikely teaming of Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts, there wasn't anything more inept or offensive about it than I've seen in dozens of other films of its ilk. The stars were interesting yet admittedly unbearable for the most part, but the pacing was brisk, the tension taut, and the mystery story a fairly good one. As for their 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, it was as satisfying and heartwarming as one could have wished.

Shyers and Meyer like to tell good old-fashioned stories the good old-fashioned way, and while this has always deprived them of receiving widespread recognition as revered artists they do make you question whether or not it's better to see a chance-taking original film that fails miserably on an artistic level (like Being John Malkovich) or a familiar-on-the-surface one that exudes genuine charm and simply offers up a good time (like The Shipping News). (I'll opt for the latter). What they offer up in Baby Boom must have been off-putting to some critics at the time because it doesn't really stand out as anything particular, when obviously the triumph of the film is in its success at entertaining us with consistent non-particulars and without "standouts", which would initially entice yet unlikely sustain interest or progress the story until the next standout bit was paraded about.

It takes confidence, discipline and talent to take a low-key story and vividly translate it onto the screen without any undue cutting-up calling attention away from that story and onto some kind of bogus center of attention which contributes little or nothing to the story, except to garner attention for the sake of doing so for the impatient who need something happening every few seconds to justify their ticket purchase. In their writing, Shyers and Meyer may not set the world of cinema on fire with unbridled creativity; then again, they don't concoct much in the way of asinine happenstances, either. And while Shyers' directing isn't particularly distinctive, it's proficient and unobtrusive so that it allows enough aesthetic distance to enable the actors to go about feeling and figuring things out within a given scene. Blessedly bereft of arty camera angles and x-ray close-ups, Baby Boom ultimately makes for the opposite of a Stanley Kubrick film: it comes off as favoring people over artifacts, emotions over technology. How divine!

Better than the more widely seen "Three Men and a Baby."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3650&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/03/03 15:34:11
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good flick not overly sweet & sappy 4 stars
6/21/15 David Hollingsworth delightful and witty film about the working woman 5 stars
7/15/11 Rocketeer aewsome movie very sweet 5 stars
1/20/08 Susan I always watch this when its on, LOVE IT! 5 stars
12/24/07 susan robb great movie 5 stars
11/10/06 Bill Hi all 3 stars
8/24/05 Lorri DiCandia I love it, rent it alot. I want to move to VT 5 stars
12/07/03 Carole Loved this romantic movie. Sam Shepard is a total goodlooking man. 5 stars
3/06/03 pimp hella gay 5 stars
1/03/03 Mister Bigglesworth Like a great comedy, only not funny 2 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Kind of depressing for a comedy 3 stars
11/25/01 Smoogles Has some CLASSIC scenes, cute funny movie 4 stars
3/31/01 Andrew Carden Baby Boom is a real bore. 2 stars
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  02-May-1987 (PG)



Directed by
  Charles Shyer

Written by
  Charles Shyer
  Nancy Meyers

  Diane Keaton
  Sam Shepard
  Harold Ramis
  Sam Wanamaker
  James Spader
  Pat Hingle

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