Why I Do What I Do … In the Unlikely Guise of a Review of “Baby Mama”

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First off, some major disclaimers.  I normally don’t talk about things I dislike on this blog.  And to be fair, the 2008 film “Baby Mama” is far from being the worst film I’ve ever seen.  It seriously doesn’t warrant the words I’m about to say about it.  But “Baba Mama” represents everything I hate about many movies, let alone TV.  And, more significantly, it also represents why I decided to do what I do with my blog.

“Baby Mama” is not a significant film.  It was not intended to win Oscars or blow minds.  I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it was even conceived with the notion that it would  make a dent … at all … in the psyches of the general public.  At best, it was designed to be a lightly funny diversion for people on a Friday night after a hard work week, with the mere intention to amuse.  If it amused any of you, that’s cool with me.  My last goal is to piss on any text that brought genuine joy to someone in any capacity.

But this film offended me … enraged me, even.  And not because it was a terrible movie.  But because “Baby Mama” was so painfully mediocre.  The film would have actually been better had it been terrible.  Because at least I would have found something interesting about it.  Aside from one funny joke about whether a brown stain on a finger was poop or chocolate, absolutely NOTHING about this film made me laugh, let alone smile.  For me, it was the equivalent of watching the TV shows “Two and a Half Men”  or “Wings.”  Or the movie equivalent of eating a Burger King breakfast sandwich.  It wasn’t good.  It wasn’t terrible.  The experience of watching “Baby Mama” meant absolutely … f–king … nothing.  It was a void.

Where does one place the blame for a film like this?  Is it the cast?  I don’t know.  I can say with all honesty that I genuinely like all of the major actors in this film (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin).  I’m sure none of these talented people chose to do this because the script they read completely sucked.  I realize creative people do some things for the money.  But all of these people could have found a job doing something else if they didn’t find the project genuinely interesting.

The next suspect: the writer / director Michael McCullers.  This was (and as far as I know) the only film McCullers has directed, after writing credits on three “Austin Powers” films.  I’m sure he wasn’t expecting his first film to be “Citizen Kane,” but I think he probably thought this wouldn’t be a bad film to make his directorial debut on, considering that Lorne Michaels was a producer.  And you know what?  The film was competently made.  I didn’t see any glaring Ed Wood-style screw-ups.  Was it the script?  The “Austin Powers” films he helped write were huge hits and … to varying degrees … pretty funny.  Talented people can strike out creatively, but the fact that all of these talented people lined up behind it makes me think that maybe the original script had more going on with it than what resulted in the final product.  Especially when you consider that most major studio comedies go through a hellish “rewriting” process where as many as 20 anonymous writers may be hired to “punch up” the script to make it “funnier,” though in most cases, whatever original spark the script had has been beaten to death or taken out entirely.

So who’s to blame for how lame the final product is?  I don’t know.  And I’m not the one to point fingers.  Based on what I know about how movies are really made, the creation of “Baby Mama” was likely a classic example of a film run through the “machine” of a major corporate studio thinking more about “demographics” and “ancillary markets” than producing something of quality.   But then again, who knows?  All I know is that I didn’t have high expectations when I checked this DVD out of the library, other than to find something kind of funny and not too deep to watch for the end of a work week.  And what I saw was absolutely lacking of my, admittedly, minimal expectations.

Which leads me back to why I do this blog.  I’m not a film critic or movie reviewer, but I think I can say what I dislike about a film (or other text) in an intelligent manner.  However, auteur theory be damned, most movies are not the result of one creative power.  There are many people responsible for the creation of a film and to pinpoint what makes a particular film bad is typically based on which person behind the scenes can provide the most persuasive argument.  I’m not in the industry, let alone an insider who can intelligently say what made a major film get greenlit or why it went artistically astray.  All I know is what makes me laugh … turns me on … blows my mind … or make me question my existence.  And because I’m in my 40s and don’t know whether I have 2/3, 1/2, 1/3, or (yikes!) even less of my life left to live, I’d rather talk about those things I like in detail, than analyze things I dislike.

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for roughly a year now.  Dave’s Strange World has only been active approximately 9 months, but that’s only because my original blog (Dave’s Waste of Time) got unceremoniously yanked after 3 months to same vague violation of the “Terms of Agreement” … or something of that nature.  My blog may be a lot of “happy happy” talk about “great” or “awesome” or “terrific” things (I probably need a better thesaurus), but again, I’d rather talk about things that move me, than things that make me go “eh.”

Please note that anyone who has put their heart and soul into putting together something creatively, no matter how disagreeable I may find the final product, is far ballsier than I could ever imagine to be.  So even if I don’t like your creative endeavor, you get a pass from me for putting yourself on the line for doing far more than I’ve ever done.   And if you’re making people happy, then screw all of those people, including myself, who try to ruin your parade.

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“Saturday Night Live 1980” – Nathan Rabin’s “How Bad Can it Be? Case File #23”

http://www.avclub.com/articles/how-bad-can-it-be-case-file-23-saturday-night-live,84591/

Bad comedy has always intrigued me, which is why I found this article about SNL’s infamous 1980-81 season so fascinating.  Part of Nathan Rabin’s endlessly terrific “My World of Flops” series, Rabin analyzes the SNL season most people believe was the series’ worst.   This was the season produced by Jean Doumanian, right after Lorne Michaels (and the rest of the original cast) left, and she had to start over with a new cast and new writers.  After reading the detailed account of this season’s failure in Doug Hill’s and Jeff Weingrad’s 1985 book “Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live” many years ago, I had been trying to see these episodes for a long time.  Some of the episodes appeared on Comedy Central when repeats of the show were run, but many of them were severely edited.  It wasn’t until some DVD-Rs of this season mysteriously fell off a truck in a town I don’t remember that I finally got a chance to watch the season.

Yes, this season is pretty bad.  However, when you look at the show over its nearly 40-year history, there are other seasons that are arguably as bad.  What’s easier to see now (as opposed to back in 1980) is that the show goes through severe ups and downs, the downs usually being the years when the show has to start over with a new cast and writers.  It’s not that the performers/writers are bad during the down seasons, it just takes time for a new talent pool to gel, but watching that process can be incredibly painful (and interesting).  The 1980-81 season was one of those seasons, and Doumanian had an incredibly thankless job.  Because no one had ever seen this process before and because the first 5 seasons were so beloved, anything less than being better than the first 5 seasons would have been seen as a failure.

Despite these qualifications, the season is pretty terrible, though the obvious highlight is watching the introduction of Eddie Murphy.  Watching Murphy and how fresh and funny he was back in the day, it’s astonishing to think where his career has ended up over 30 years later.  Don’t get me wrong, the man still has enormous talent (“Dreamgirls”), but when you see the hacky comedies he’s become affiliated with in recent years (“Pluto Nash,” “Daddy Day Care”), it’s a sad reminder of how far he’s sunk.

The other fascinating person to watch that season is Charles Rocket.  Billed as a cross between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase and groomed to be the season’s breakout star by producer Doumanian, Rocket is a better talent than historians of the show would lead you to believe.  However, the pressure cooker environment of the show, coupled with the sky-high expectations put on his shoulders by Doumanian, likely contributed to him being immensely difficult to work with, as Hill and Weingrad allege in their book.  After being fired soon after dropping the “f-bomb” on live television, Rocket periodically popped up in character roles in movies and TV, usually very good and playing the kind of caddish roles that Wil Arnett specialized in before starring in “Up All Night” (ironically, produced by Lorne Michaels).   His 2005 suicide by slitting his own throat was especially sad, considering that before SNL, Rocket was considered an important figure in the Providence, Rhode Island arts scene during the early-mid 1970s, a scene that also produced Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and the Talking Heads.  (Rocket played accordion on the David Byrne-produced B-52s album “Whammy”).  Below is a link to an article from the Providence Phoenix that discusses this part of Rocket’s career.

http://www.providencephoenix.com/features/p_and_j/documents/05030762.asp

Doumanian later went on to become producer of then-best friend Woody Allen’s films during the 1990s and early 2000s, until an infamous falling out occurred, detailed in the Vanity Fair article listed below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2005/12/woodyallen200512