TITLE OF FILM: “Baby Boom”
FILM YEAR: 1987
DIRECTOR: Charles Shyer
WRITER: Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer
STARRING: Diane Keaton, Harold Ramis, Sam Wanamaker, Sam Shepard, Pat Hingle, James Spader
“Baby Boom” opens with journalist Linda Ellerbee’s voice providing narration to shots of the bustling streets of New York City filled with the working woman. J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton) is one of those women. J.C., known to her coworkers as “The Tiger Lady,” is extremely successful in the world of business. She works 80 hours a week at a management firm and is constantly on the prowl for the next big client. Although she has a live-in boyfriend (Harold Ramis), she has little time for anyone or anything except her job.
One night, she receives a phone call with news of an inheritance from a distant cousin. Much to J.C.’s surprise, the “inheritance” is a fourteen-month-old baby girl named Elizabeth. Her fast-paced existence gets thrown for a loop with this new arrival. And J.C. must ultimately decide what she really wants from her life.
Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers were a husband and wife filmmaking duo for over twenty years. They successfully produced some top-notch comedies during their marriage. “Private Benjamin” (1980), “Father of the Bride” (1991) and “The Parent Trap” (1998) are three of their most well-known.
Flying solo, Nancy Meyers has gone on to have an extremely lucrative career of her own. She has written, directed and produced films, including “What Women Want” (2000), “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003), “The Holiday” (2006), “It’s Complicated” (2009) and “The Intern” (2015). Nancy Meyers is the most commercially successful female writer-director-producer of all time with her films taking in over $600 million (Box Office Mojo).
The Shyer-Meyers production of “Baby Boom” tackles a complicated subject matter, but it is a comedy at heart. It is a comedy about the anxiety and joys of parenting. Oscar winner Diane Keaton gets to have a great deal of fun as a tough as nails working woman who softens and slows down while dealing with the pangs of motherhood. Her performance is true to life. The franticness of leaving her child with someone else for the first time, the exhaustion that creeps into her everyday life or her meltdowns over finances and a lack of sex are all extremely familiar topics to the working (and non-working) mom.
The film’s score was written by Oscar nominee Bill Conti (composer for the films “Rocky” and “The Right Stuff”). The music manages to inhabit two moods at once. It is a sweet lullaby, but also a powerful theme for the working person. It is both soothing and invigorating. The setting for “Baby Boom” is split between New York City and the Vermont countryside. Although very different, there is a beauty to each. A worthy metaphor for J.C.’s life choices.
Although the film revolves around the mother-daughter bond of J.C. and Elizabeth, there is a talented group of men in their orbit. Although a tad wasted, Harold Ramis (co-writer and star of “Ghostbusters” (1984) and director of “Groundhog Day” (1993)) is believable as a man comfortable in his life with no desire to change. Sam Wanamaker and James Spader are devilishly good as two members of the boy’s club J.C. struggle’s to keep up with after she becomes a mother. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor Sam Shepard is all heart as the simple and quiet small town guy with eyes for the town’s newest resident.
CULTURAL AND THEMATIC ANALYSIS:
There is a scene early on in “Baby Boom” where J.C. is having a business dinner with her superior, Fritz. He tells J.C. he is considering her for partner. She is thrilled by the news, but it quickly becomes apparent that the dinner is not about preparing her for the promotion. He is feeling her out. He wants to know her future personal plans. The scene stands out because Fritz is not trying to hide anything. He is aware of the bias. He can have the career and the family because he is a man. J.C. has to make a choice because she is a woman.
“Baby Boom” is thirty-two years old, but that question is often still THE question that women have to answer. Socioeconomic factors often make it that much more challenging for women to answer. But the truth is, no matter their station in life, their age, their marital status, women should not have to choose between work and family.
RECEPTION TO THE FILM AT THE TIME:
“Baby Boom” was released in 1987 and garnered generally positive reviews. Los Angles Times critic Kevin Thomas wrote of Shyer and Meyers that, “They’re not afraid to be sophisticated and screwballish in the best ’30s tradition, and they know just how far to exaggerate for laughs without leaving touch with reality entirely or destroying sentiment. The humor in “Baby Boom” is sharp without being heartless.”
The film caused some debate as to its motivations. In a 1989 New York Times article written by Caryn James, she dissects the films “Baby Boom,” “Beaches” (1988), “Working Girl” (1988) and “Crossing Delancy” (1988). James comes to the conclusion that feminism may be dead essentially because the females in these films are not “independent” when the credits roll. Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers directly combated this conclusion. In a letter to the newspaper’s editor, they wrote, “In “Baby Boom,” we endeavor to move the audience to think and recognize the increasing prejudice women face today. Perhaps Ms. James has not adequately considered that reality.”
The film was nominated for two Golden Globes- Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (Diane Keaton) and Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. Diane Keaton also received nominations from the National Society of Film Critics and the American Comedy Awards.
COMPARISONS TO ANY MOVIES OF TODAY:
“Life as We Know It” (2010) follows an extremely similar storyline to that of “Baby Boom.” It is not, however, as strong or successful an effort. For recent films that deal with the news of an unplanned baby, check out “Unexpected” (2015) or “Bridget Jones’ Baby” (2016). The former is about a pregnant inner-city teacher who bonds with a pregnant student. The latter is the third installment of the “Bridget Jones’ Diary” series. It is a worthy watch and is great for a laugh.
WHY IT STILL RESONATES TODAY:
J.C.’s struggles are very real to today’s women. First, comes the question of whether you need a man to have a family. Women have been fed a bill of goods since childhood that there is a perfect man out there for each of us. We will meet, fall in love, get married, buy a house and have a baby. In that order. But if you don’t find the man, can you still have the rest? And how long do you wait until you decide to go it alone?
The next question is whether you can work and be a mother? Motherhood is a full-time job, and having a career is often a full-time job. Can you do both? Or more importantly, can you do both well? These are questions that women grapple with on a daily basis. The answers are not certain, but the point is, is that for women, the answers should be ours.