Baby Boom / Mr. Mom (Double Feature)
May 4, 2006
Charles Shyer, Stan Dragoti,
Starring: Diane Keaton, Harold Ramis, Sam Wanamaker, Sam Shepard, James Spader, Michael Keaton, Teri Garr, Martin Mull, Ann Jillian, Christopher Lloyd, Jeffrey Tambor, ,
Just in time for Mother’s Day comes a repackaged double feature about the “joys” of motherhood, specifically the highs and lows of child-rearing from the female and male perspectives. Both of these films, made during the 1980s, are also fascinating snapshots of popular American culture at the time. America’s economy was doing well and materialism was all the rage. Both films included in this package feature protagonists who are suddenly downsized from their busy corporate jobs only to become reluctant parents with hilarious results.
Baby Boom (1987) features a busy executive named J.C. Wiatt (Keaton). She is immersed in her work, commands a six figure salary, and has the smarts and ambition to back it up. She has what she thinks is the perfect life and then it all changes with the arrival of a baby girl, willed to her by a recently deceased distant cousin. Naturally, this child causes a huge disruption in her life and before she knows it one of her colleagues (Spader essaying one of his many Yuppie scum roles) has taken advantage of her new situation. He muscles in on her job and her boyfriend (Ramis) leaves. So, J.C. drops out of the rat race and relocates to Vermont. There, she meets and falls for a handsome local doctor (Shepard) while starting up her own baby food franchise.
As one would expect, much of the film’s humour comes from J.C. trying to take care of a baby with zero experience. For example, she tries to feed the child linguini (?!) or, in frustration, she tapes a diaper on the infant. This new person in her life begins to take its toll on her career as she blows an important meeting by taking the crying baby to it. Director Charles Shyer handles this all with the skill of a journeyman director and would go on to helm forgettable remakes of Father of the Bride (1991) and Alfie (2004).
In some respects, Baby Boom picks up where a film like Working Girl (1988) left off as it asks the question, what happens once you have it all? Can a woman have the best of both worlds – a successful career and a family? Diane Keaton does a great job as she makes the believable transition from powerful executive to nurturing mother. It just doesn’t happen over night and her character doesn’t undergo a complete transformation but rather learns to adapt to her new situation.
Mr. Mom (1983) also features a protagonist who must adapt to a new lifestyle as it takes the traditional notion of motherhood and reverses the roles. When Jack Butler (Keaton) is downsized from his job, his wife Caroline (Garr) re-enters the workforce while he stays at home with the kids. It’s a culture shock for both of them as she has to get used to the cutthroat world of corporate life (working at a busy ad agency) and he makes the transition to housework. Once in their new roles, they face new challenges beyond the daily grind of their work. She has to ward off advances from her lecherous boss (Mull) while he is tempted by a sexy next-door-neighbour (Jillian).
After the surprise success of Night Shift (1982), this movie helped make Michael Keaton a household name. He showcases killer comic timing and a smart-ass attitude that is very funny. So much of the humour comes from how he reacts to all of the domestic challenges that his character faces. Mundane things like driving his kids to school or going grocery shopping while trying not to lose his kids become hilarious comedic set pieces. Teri Garr is his ideal straight man, bringing an accessible appeal to her role. She enjoyed a great of popularity in the 1970s and ‘80s (as did Diane Keaton) and her work in Mr. Mom is one of her signature roles. The direction is handled ably by Stan Dragoti who would go on to make dismal fare like The Man with One Red Shoe (1985) and Unnecessary Roughness (1991).