Film: Very Good
Extras: Very Good
Label: Twilight Time
Released: March 14, 2017
Genre: Comedy / Romantic Comedy
Synopsis: A ball-busting executive chooses motherhood when she’s obliged to take care of an orphaned niece. Can Tiger Woman J.C. Wiatt have it all?
Special Features: Audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman / Isolated Stereo Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.
Former husband and wife team of Charles Shyer and Nancy Myers (Private Benjamin, Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II) concocted this surprisingly effective update of a classic screwball comedy, and although the pair may not have intended Baby Boom to be a time capsule of mores and conflicts of women juggling career and family in the mid-1980s, at least in its first hour Shyer’s direction and the pair’s script is exceptionally patient in dramatizing the transformation of self-described ‘Tiger Woman’ J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton) from ball-buster to single parent.
Wiatt isn’t a classic ball-buster – she likes romance and a good romp – but it’s clear from the first bedroom scene with boyfriend / nerdy dink Steven Buchner (Harold Ramis) that a relationship built upon winning respective strategies in the workplace and friendly competition isn’t substantive nor satisfying to her. Perhaps that’s why the sudden insertion of infant Elizabeth makes Wiatt switch from rejecting this ‘gift’ from a distant yet tragically dead cousin to becoming a working mom is convincing: going beyond the clichéd motherly instincts, J.C. is won over by Elizabeth’s offering of trust, love, and a new set of challenges that force Wiatt to remain resolute, ultimately walking away from a once-guaranteed partnership with a legal firm to a 43 acre farm in Vermont.
Broad jokes and beautifully choreographed physical comedy aside (Keaton porting the dangling infant like a loose fur coat is hysterical), Baby Boom’s first hour is unusually compelling, and in 2017, it’s insanely brave for not having Wiatt go through that first hour in 20 minutes of screen time, getting her to Vermont and setting up her romance pronto. (Actually, in 2017, the finale would have Wiatt choosing the altar and a formal ceremony, but Shyer and Myers’ fable has Wiatt retaining her independent spirit while enjoying a balanced relationship, career, and motherhood.
All does in fact end well for Wiatt within the film’s unlikely 110 mins., but as Julie Kirgo points out in her steady commentary track (with a few words from producer Nick Redman), we still have to wait for girl to meet boy until it’s past the hour mark. After small town vet Dr. Jeff Cooper (Sam Shepard) brings an unconscious Wiatt back to consciousness, he’s pushed to the margins a few times but rarely lingers long because the last hour is essentially a series of preposterously compressed montage tracing Wiatt’s great commercial success with a serendipitous business idea that allows her to strut back to her former NYC bosses and make the decision we know she has to: refute a sexy offer out of revenge, a bit of spite, and overwhelming self-confidence that might not see her product ‘in every grocery store in America,’ but nevertheless make a potent impact with her as full CEO.
Folded among the secondary and minor characters are veteran actors (Sam Wanamaker, Pat Hingle) and a few familiar faces from TV, but also making small appearances are James Spader as Wiatt’s (unsurprisingly) smarmy bastard underling who usurps her power; Victoria Jackson as an ‘afternoon delighting’ nanny; and broadcaster Linda Ellerbee narrating and establishing film’s premise of newly minted working women in the Big Apple. (Also of note is the Seagram Building which houses Wiatt’s office, and also served as the publishing headquarters for the classic 1959 working / Tiger Woman melodrama The Best of Everything, where a typist becomes a top editor, loses her waifish posture and comportment, and a lot of innocence as she ascends the traditionally male-dominated corporate ladder.)
The BR’s commentary may need a few injections from a third voice – Kirgo’s admiration / adoration for the film is quite dominant – but without comments from the filmmakers or Keaton (who’s excellent, juggling comedy, drama, and classic romantic mush), the track offers a highly supportive evaluation of a comedy often lumped with more generic romcoms of the period. No cast members or groups break into an oldies song; montages feature vintage imagery, instrumental score, and focus on her business success instead of wacky hijinks with her new beau set to a song featured on the film’s ‘music from and inspired by’ album (of which there was none); and the décor and costumes are largely restrained from the era’s loud, trendy designs. (I still don’t get the giant belt buckle over jackets, but in terms of colours, patterns, and fabrics, Baby Boom avoids the garishness which makes 1980s romcoms quaint guilty pleasures for connoisseurs.)
Besides big belts, if there’s a single element that dates the film, it’s Bill Conti’s score, which consists of synth drums, sequencers, and wailing romantic sax and cheery keyboards. Structurally and thematically, everything is precision designed – even the main theme which sways from a children’s sing-along to a fuzzy romantic pop-jazz iteration is well-crafted – but it’s also very cloying, taking Conti away from his more affecting classical and orchestral works. (A greater hybrid of orchestra, synths, children’s voices, and high register strings is his drippy main theme for the 1988 rescoring of Luc Besson’s The Big Blue.)
Conti’s previously unreleased score appears in a separate music and effects track, and the excellent transfer flatters the production design and William Fraker’s gorgeous cinematography. Baby Boom may have been ostensibly constructed as a classic 1930s / 1940s romantic fable, but it’s also a slick commentary on why women should be allowed to have it all; if not the perfect package enjoyed by Wiatt in record time with remarkable financial success, then the core ingredients of work, love, and a quality of life that ought to be possible without social derision, mockery, or guilt. Shyer and Myers’ final image solidifies that with just a slight softness in the final shot.
The film’s success led to another voguish trend of the era, the TV spinoff, and the single season NBC series starred Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) as Wiatt, and Sam Wanamaker reprising his role as CEO Fritz Curtis.
Diane Keaton also made her directorial debut in 1987 with the offbeat documentary Heaven.
© 2017 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review