The Science of Surrogacy, and Other Hypotheses

By night, I blog about Greg Kinnear.  By day, I do “cutting edge” science.  I’m like the caped crusader, but without a cape and instead armed with hypotheses.  Hypotheses about the liver, hypotheses about Hepatitis C Virus, and hypotheses about Greg Kinnear.  Before watching Baby Mama, I asked my wife one question:  “Does Greg Kinnear play Tina Fey’s love interest?”  The answer was yes and my first hypothesis was set.

Hypothesis 1:  Tina Fey has an actor crush on Greg Kinnear  

What evidence did I have besides their romantic pairing in Baby Mama?  First, Fey & co-writers included a Kinnear name-drop in the 100th episode (“100”) of 30 Rock: “Be the biggest thing on the small screen and you’ll still get laughed out of the Vanity Fair Oscar party by Greg Kinnear.”  Second, there are countless Kinnear in-jokes AND he cameos in Season 4, Episode 1 (“Kimmy is…Little Girl, Big City”) of the Fey-created Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  

Like a good scientist, I next inspected my hypothesis with greater scrutiny…and it rapidly fell apart.  The chronology doesn’t make sense; Baby Mama (2008) was before both “100” (2011) and “Little Girl, Big City” (2018).  Also, “Little Girl, Big City” wasn’t written by Fey but by Sam Means.  Not discouraged, I returned to the drawing board and quickly came away with a new hypothesis.

Hypothesis 2: Kinnear is on speed-dial for SNL writers striking out to make movies

Baby Mama was written and directed by Michael McCullers, one of SNL’s writers, and its cast features several SNL stars (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, and–my favorite–Will Forte).  And, of course, Kinnear was recruited by SNL writers Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary for Brigsby Bear.  Two points make a line, and this hypothesis is legit.

Alright, so maybe both these hypotheses are bunk.  But Kinnear is in a handful of TV episodes and comedies with some very funny people, and isn’t that all you need?  Let’s talk Baby Mama, which is now on Hulu for your viewing pleasure.

Baby Mama (2008)

Directed by Michael McCullers, Baby Mama is an entertaining if unexceptional rom com.  Baby Mama aims for a constant chuckle, and achieves this even in the usually unfunny conflict resolution part of rom coms (aka the last 15 minutes).  Baby Mama never achieves belly-laughs or laugh-until-you-cry moments, but you could easily do worse.

Tina Fey is a single woman living in the city of brothels and love brotherly love.  At 37, she’s the very successful VP of Round Earth Organics (=Whole Foods).  Her time spent climbing the professional ladder has meant putting family on hold, as it does for many men & women in large cities these days.  Now it’s time to remedy that, and she’s out to find a partner and have a baby!  But there’s one problem, her uterus is shaped like a T and there’s a one-in-a-million chance she’ll be able to conceive.  Fey explores adoption but the process is lengthy for singles (fo’ real), so she turns to surrogacy.

leading ladies
Poehler carries baby, Fey adults.  Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Fey goes with the first surrogate mother she meets, Amy Poehler as an uneducated but fertile country bumpkin.  (Their movie names are Kate & Angie, but I’m taking a solid suggestion from my labmate and sticking with actor names throughout).  Poehler is successfully implanted with Fey’s fertilized egg, and the surrogacy has liftoff!  Shortly thereafter, Poehler’s common law husband cheats on her so she moves in with Fey.  Within these three sentences, there are a lot of underdeveloped plot devices.  Like why Fey doesn’t explore other surrogate candidates, or why she lets Poehler move in.  But let’s be real, the point was to get Fey and Poehler to share as much screen time as possible.

And while the Fey/Poehler dynamic may not be the comedy gold people hoped for, it’s at least silver.  Fey as the baby-fevered, organic diet, well-educated businesswoman living with Poehler as the uneducated, feel-good-food, party-all-the-time bachelorette makes for lots of solid laughs.  Such as baby/Amy-proofing the toilet, dietary differences (which is really just Poehler spitting up food), and numerous baby class scenes including my favorite where Poehler is the only adult excited to accept the “selfish comforts” of an epidural.  For parents, these scenes are most enjoyable for the way they poke fun at the crazy levels the new-mom industry achieves (babyproof everything! pump-or-bust!  epidurals are the enemy!).  My wife enjoyed these moments quite a bit.

We get scenes like this for a while, and it’s great.  Then trouble brews.  Poehler isn’t actually pregnant, but schemed with her husband to fake it and get paid.  While Poehler wrestles with coming clean, Fey has met and started dating Greg Kinnear.  Kinnear’s Rob is the owner of Super Fruity Smoothies, which is definitely not Jamba Juice.  I won’t spoil the ending, but y’all can probably figure it out.  Hint: like in A Smile Like YoursKinnear is making faces at babies by movie’s end.

sparks fly
Sparks fly for Team Feynear! Maybe that actor crush IS real?! Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

The plot of Baby Mama is predictable, but the movie’s elevated by hilarious performances.  Aside from the Fey/Poehler/Kinnear trifecta, Steve Martin kills it as Fey’s new-age boss and Dax Shepard is my favorite as Poehler’s white trash, common law husband.  The movie’s critical reception was mixed.  Some reviewers loved it, others not so much.  For one, the movie boosted a message of alternative family through surrogacy before phasing it out.  Others wanted Baby Mama to be the rollicking feminist response to Judd Apatow’s crude dude comedies, like subsequent Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer movies.  But I’m confused why we ever wanted Apatow comedies.  And what if these reviews miss the goal of the movie?  Here’s my third (and most legit) hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Michael McCullers wrote Baby Mama primarily as a comedy about bringing people together across political and socioeconomic lines

Baby Mama features obvious liberal vs conservative, urban vs rural stereotypes.  Steve Martin’s new-ageisms (“I found this shell while running barefoot through the Toronto airport”; “I’ve toasted pine nuts at the mouth of an active volcano”) are counter-balanced by Dax Shepard’s license plate (MYGRLROX) and Arena Football radio contests.  Ridiculous progressive baby names (“Time for your playdate with Wingspan and Banjo!”) and neighborhood names (“WeBeSoCa, which is Webster South of Catherine”) are counter-balanced by Poehler’s high-fructose diet (“[Organic] crap is for rich people who hate themselves”).  But Baby Mama also paints in subtler strokes.  Fey’s desire to open a flagship organic foods store presents a serious gentrification problem.  Poehler’s lack-of-education has resulted in some terrible life choices.  McCullers’ smarts are in making all of these characters sympathetic and uniting them over more immediate life events than politics–babies and business!  The glue that holds this message together is Mr. Moderate, Greg Kinnear.

Moderates Make the World Go Round

Meet Baby Mama Kinnear.  He’s middle age, has a 12 yo daughter, and has the perfect amount of stray hairs in his “mop up top.”  Once a lawyer, he now owns and operates Super Fruity Smoothies with their signature smoothie “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”  As a proud small-business-owner, he leads the WeBeSoCa Small Business Owner’s Association, and is legit concerned Fey’s organic supermarket will gentrify the neighborhood without giving anything back.  He also thinks surrogacy is weird sci-fi stuff that’s for the super-wealthy.  In sum, he’s a man of ambitiously moderate sensibilities.

Fruity Smoothie
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana? Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

And that’s all we learn about his character.  Which is perfectly fine, since he’s meant to play second-fiddle to the Fey/Poehler wo-mance.  He’s perfectly charming, as you’d expect from “classic Kinnear.”  He & Fey have a handful of very cute scenes.  In the flirting stage, Kinnear pokes fun at himself and the phallic-looking logo he designed (zoom in on his shirt, if you feel so inclined).  On the first date, Kinnear takes Fey to a vegan restaurant since he thinks she’s vegan (neither are).  Their facial expressions as they try the yeast bowl and blue-green algae are perfect, check it.

The best part of Kinnear’s charm is that he pursues Fey.  Sure, he’s worried about the effects of her big-business aspirations and doesn’t have the highest opinion of surrogacy (or at least its cost).  But he makes these things secondary, and pursues her anyways.  The moment of “greatest conflict” finds Fey and Poehler unnecessarily in court for a reading of paternity results (spoiler: Poehler is actually pregnant after being fake pregnant but it’s Shepard’s).  Kinnear is also there to literally be the moderate lawyer mediator between Fey and Poehler (hypothesis 3 = confirmed!).  Poehler delivers a ridiculous speech, then Kinnear delivers one to say he’s there for Fey.  He never wanted to step foot in a court room again, but did so for his girl.  Awww.

Summary

  • Hypothesis 1: Tina Fey has an actor crush on Greg Kinnear…Team Feynear is a no-go 😦
  • Hypothesis 2: Kinnear is on speed-dial for SNL writers striking out to make movies…Maybe?
  • Hypothesis 3: Michael McCullers wrote Baby Mama primarily as a comedy about bringing people together across political and socioeconomic lines…1000x YES!
    • Strong acting performances carry a predictable plot, for a very solid B-level comedy.
  • Bonus Hypothesis 4: Kinnear likes taking roles in movies about infertility issues.  He’s starred in Baby Mama and A Smile Like Yours, and two points make a line!
  • Kinnear maybe wasn’t exceptional as Fey’s love interest, but he sure was charming as an oh-so-moderate bridge builder.  The two def had cute chemistry.

    Kinnear Meter BM
    Moderates really do make the world go round.  Be like Greg!
  • Next Up:  The Last Song.  Kinnear stars as Miley Cyrus’s dad?  In a Nicholas Sparks movie?  With original music by Miley?!  The time to watch this movie is NOW.  Catch the trailer here.

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