and happy about it: (l-r) Poehler and Shepard in Baby
by Michael McCullers
Mama seemed like it would be the kind of movie that blows
all its funny business in the relentless ad campaign leading
up to its premiere. Career gal Kate (Tina Fey) can’t get pregnant,
so she hires white-trash Angie (Amy Poehler) to be a surrogate.
Think Odd Couple blended with television’s A Baby
Story, and you pretty much get the picture.
The good news is that there is plenty more to laugh at than
what’s been rammed down our throats. The juxtaposition of
Kate’s prim, ultra-neatnik tendencies with Angie’s pop-guzzling,
gum-smacking persona is mined for all its worth, so it’s helpful
that Poehler, in particular, is so fearless a comedic actress.
The sight of her, complete with baby bump, grinding her bootie
into her dance partner is a hilarious shocker. For her turn,
Fey simply channels Mary Richards. She works just as well
off Poehler as she does off Steve Martin, who nearly steals
the movie as Kate’s new-agey, pony-tailed boss at Round Earth,
a sort of Whole Foods-type enterprise. This is a guy who likes
to regale the common folk with tales of how he roasted pine
nuts at the foot of a volcano, and rewards underlings with
the chance to touch foreheads for five uninterrupted minutes.
The movie is also helped along by solid performances from
Greg Kinnear, playing Kate’s love interest; Sigourney Weaver,
as the forever-fertile entrepreneur behind the surrogacy firm
Kate chooses; and Dax Shepherd, as Angie’s redneck common
law hubbie. He’s the kind of guy who, when Angie dumps him,
delivers this coup d’etat: “I’m gonna bang all your friends!
Consider them banged!”
So, there is a lot to laugh about in Baby Mama, and
yet, it’s something of a disappointment. It’s refreshing to
see a movie that in some small way resembles the realities
and concerns of a working woman, and Fey is, if nothing else,
the personification of a likeable Everywoman. However, the
real tension of the plot comes from pitting Kate’s upward
mobility against Angie’s lower-class roots, and writer-director
Michael McCullers seems not to want to tap that root, no matter
how many times they come close to exposing it. Poehler pushes
the envelope, making us party to Angie’s gross habits, and
even giving us cause to agree with her beliefs, such as when
she refers to Kate’s unappetizing-looking organic fare as
“food for rich people who hate themselves.” But the movie
hangs back when it could be skewering perceptions about fertility,
the lengths to which people will go to perpetuate their DNA,
and what really makes a good parent. The result is a crucial
loss of bite.
Mama ends on an obvious happy note, albeit a completely
unbelievable one. The idea that motherhood in and of itself
unites women from disparate backgrounds, with divergent tastes,
and transcends what had been a prickly relationship fraught
with questions about status and class, into that of BFFs is
just plain stupid. Just as bad, it waters down what little
satirical juice the movie, quite thankfully, had.
by Stefan Ruzowitzky
The problem with dramatizing a story set in the middle of
the Holocaust is one of proportion: How do you bring some
small corner of this historic tragedy to dramatic life without
trivializing the overwhelming nature of the tragedy?
Director Stefan Ruzowitzky gets it exactly right in this Oscar-winning
drama, which tells the true story of a small group of Jewish
counterfeiters pressed into service by the Nazis to replicate
British and U.S. currencies. The straightforward way he accomplishes
this is by letting us immediately know that the lead character,
master counterfeiter Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics),
survives the war. (The film is told in flashback.) That simple
twist keeps the audience from being sucked into the will-he-or-won’t-he-survive
question, which would engender a feeling of suspense that
would take the focus off the overall horror.
More interestingly, the film’s intense drama is found in the
moral dilemmas faced by Sorowitsch and his fellow prisoners.
They’re kept separate from the rest of the concentration camp
inmates, and treated relatively well. (This means they aren’t
worked, literally, to death.) This is a source of pain for
some; not so much for others. The work that keeps them alive—counterfeiting—supports
the German war effort, and may even be prolonging the war.
Again, this is more of a problem for some than others.
Sorowitsch is both artist and philistine, kowtowing supplicant
and brave fighter. Even before the war, his politics are shown
to be pure self-preservation—he barely conceals his contempt
for his fellow Jews. A shrewd judge of human nature, he knows
exactly how to flatter his captors enough to get what he wants,
but not so much that he violates his own (thief’s) code of
ethics. His relationships with a self-righteous Communist
idealist (August Diehl) and the slimy SS commandant (David
Striesow) are telling: He respects but is frustrated by the
former; he despises, but can do business with, the latter.
Markovics, whose technique is spare, is compelling in the
In the end, obviously, the Nazi scheme to flood the world
with fake dollars and pounds, thus crashing their enemies’
economies, fails. It was just another pipe dream that gave
this supremely delusional regime something to hang hope on—and,
ironically, allowed a handful of skilled Jewish craftsmen
to survive the Holocaust.