3 Stars Movies

Tina Fey raids her rolodex for Baby Mama

As a true comedy auteur, Tina Fey’s acting has always come in tandem with her own writing. This double act has progressed from improv comedy at The Second City, to head writer for Saturday Night Live, to supporting player in the feature film Mean Girls, (for which she wrote the screenplay), and finally to executive producer and star of her own sitcom 30 Rock.

Baby Mama, written and directed by Michael McCullers, marks Fey’s first star turn in a project which she did not originate or write. Still, it certainly feels a lot like a Tiny Fey joint. Judging by the general tone and the chaotic improv of Fey’s partner-in-crime Amy Poehler, I suspect the two enhanced the production with a fair amount of script-doctoring. Indeed, Fey’s character fits firmly in the public persona of Endearingly Neurotic Thirtysomething Single Girl established on SNL’s Weekend Update, as Ms. Norbury in Mean Girls, and as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock. The Tina Fey Notlash notwithstanding, she is evidently more grounded in real life, and married with a child. Meanwhile, the fictionalized “Tina Fey” is the idol of every girl with glasses and crush of every boy with… uh, glasses.

Fey must have an impressive rolodex, for like her flagship TV show 30 Rock, nearly every little role is Baby Mama is filled by a familiar face. When not being amused by alumni from The Daily Show and SNL, we’re treated to Steve Martin as a wild and crazy organic food magnate and Sigourney Weaver as an initially creepy but ultimately sympathetic fertility doctor. But personally, I wouldn’t dare make fun of Sigourney Weaver’s age, lest she come after me with a flamethrower or a space forklift.

1 Star Movies

Sold out but not a soldier: Richard Kelly’s bizarre Southland Tales

I don’t know if the roughly 140 minute version of Southland Tales that made it to DVD is a butchered or merely abbreviated version of a masterpiece, but what I just saw is an unholy mess. I’m one of director Richard Kelly’s apologists for his divisive film Donnie Darko, which I found strangely affecting. Like Southland Tales, it was heavily edited down before release, and the abbreviated theatrical version doesn’t even make logical sense. Its emotional appeal is hard to pin down, and yet I found it hugely involving and moving. I was rooting for Kelly on his big follow-up, and even though it made the best-of-the-year lists of both The New York Times and The Village Voice, I guess I’m on the losing team now.

The opening moments recall Cloverfield and the TV series Jericho with accidental home video footage of a nuclear attack on Texas. A long barrage of infographics, television fragments, and narration follows, outlining a tremendously involved backstory. Kelly has obviously created a huge fictional universe, the bulk of which proves superfluous to the comparatively simple story that concerns the bulk of the film that follows. Perhaps Southland Tales is the first entry in this Kellyverse, and indeed, it is comprised of four chapters (starting, no doubt modeled after Star Wars, with Chapter 4). But after this failure it’s hard to imagine Kelly securing the funding to complete additional chapters (at least as films; television or comics seem both more appropriate and more frugal).

Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling in Southland Tales
Be thankful I couldn’t find a still of them making out

The ensemble cast is extraordinarily weird, featuring The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, plus a complement of little people. No less than five past and present Saturday Night Live cast members also appear: Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, John Lovitz, Nora Dunn, and Janeane Garofalo (credited but I think I only spotted her in one shot near the end). Rounding it out are Miranda Richardson, John Laroquette, Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale in The Wire), and Kelly-booster Kevin Smith. And is that the weird little French woman from The City of Lost Children? You haven’t seen a movie until you’ve seen one with Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling making out. But in a way I suppose that makes sense; they are both aliens from another planet. Different planets, maybe, but still.

Justin Timberlake in Southland Tales
Justin Timberlake shills for Budweiser (not shown)

The music is likewise eccentric: Jane’s Addiction’s punk/prog masterpiece Three Days figures in the dialogue as an enigmatic prophesy and as the introduction to the official movie website, and Moby does his best Vangelis impression for his original score. Justin Timberlake (filmed in separation to most of the action) serves as narrator but also stars in a bizarre musical interlude and/or Budweiser commercial and/or Iraq war commentary: “I got sold out but I’m not a soldier.” And, why not toss in pop star Mandy Moore?

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