Ten Degrees of Eighties' Movies: She's Having A Baby
posted by Mickey on 6/20/02
She's Having a Baby
This movie contains a man, a woman, an asterisk, the symbol they put next to a wicketkeeper's name when writing team lists for cricket, and a figure eight that has fallen over.
YOU are reading a post written by me.
I work with Daryn Nichols ("Daz").
Daz went to school with Emil Minty.
Emil Minty played The Feral Kid in "Mad Max II" (aka "Road Warrior") starring Mel Gibson.
Mel Gibson co-starred with Julia Roberts in "Conspiracy Theory"
Julia Roberts was in "Flatliners" featuring KEVIN BACON.
The degrees of separation thing, applied to 80s cinema, just had to go through Kevin Bacon, didn't it? Whether it is because he is "so sexy" or merely "so ubiquitous," no person in the entire history of the world has been more closely identified with the parlour game of connecting one person to another. I read an article in "The New Yorker" a couple of years ago about how some scientists with nothing better to do had fed a lot of data about movie stars into a computer, and found out that the best actor to use a link in this sort of exercise would have been Burgess Meredith, whereas Kevin Bacon ranked 14th or something, at least at that time. That might be statistically true, but compared with establishing a link with KB, I would say it would be about 1/20th the fun (0.05%) to display a connection with The Penguin.
As demonstrated above, all of my readers are comfortably within the well-known 6 degrees, and some may indeed be much closer. Well done. I think I could get there by different routes as well. For instance, at around about the time that "She's Having a Baby" was released in 1988 or 1989, for reasons too complicated to go into, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to meet a Soviet cosmonaut who was visiting Australia, and we sat in the park overlooking Bronte Beach as night fell and the stars came out; and there I was having a conversation with a man who had actually travelled far out into that darkening sky that looked so vast. He had, in fact, been part of the first joint Soviet-American space mission, and if I had only known at the time that in a mere seven years or so, Kevin Bacon would appear in "Apollo XIII," and that I might have been able to track six stages (or less) of separation from the dude, via cosmonauts and astronauts, I dare say I would have listened to what the commie had to say a little more attentively.
Anyway, it is a real pleasure to have been passed the baton, for this leg of the 80s cinema relay, and I will try not to drop it. It is a special honour to running the leg where the baton is Bacon. Really. Although, between you and me, if I had been the mad scientist presiding over this 80's cinema project, I can tell you where I would have gone from "Footloose". I would have used the appearance of Sarah Jessica Parker in that movie as a link in a chain leading straight into an appreciation of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Man, I just love that movie. "Army bases are pretty dead, unless you're in the Army. So I always had a lot of time to daydream, and my daydream was always the same--that some day, I was going to get to Chicago, because that's where they make Dance TV." And from "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," I would have connected, via Shannen Doherty's appearance in this masterpiece, into the pilot episode of "Beverly Hills 90210," and from there … well, let's face it … from there, if I had been the suzerain of the project, we would never have left 90210 at all. So, there you have it, but I didn't design this project, and perhaps just as well.
No way! Get out of here. We just want to have fun. Go write about that film instead.
Alec Baldwin, looking smug at being within a single degree of separation.
"She's Having a Baby" is a John Hughes film, starring the aforementioned Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern, and is also, it so happens, the film that bought Alec Baldwin to the attention of the popcorn-munching public, playing Kevin Bacon's best friend. Indeed, he appears to be Kevin Bacon's character's only friend. As in most John Hughes movies, the setting is Chicago (where they make Dance TV in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," a movie about which I will now shut up). At the beginning of the movie, Bacon and McGovern, are about to get married and become Mr and Mrs Jefferson Briggs. Time passes. Not much happens. Kevin Bacon goes into the advertising business, while trying at the same time to write a novel. There is a good scene where Kevin Bacon gets caught in the middle of a passionate conversation about the merits of different makes of power lawn mowers. Alec Baldwin, apparently unimpressed with the proximity he had previously enjoyed to Dance TV, moves to New York, but he pops back into town on two separate visits. The first time he is with his girl friend, Erin, who is presented as unacceptably sexually aware, particularly in a scene where she appears to demonstrate how to fellate a tall glass of diet Pepsi.
ALEC BALDWIN. Erin's mother died yesterday and we've got to do the whole funeral …
ERIN. … bullshit.
On his second visit, he tries to seduce Elizabeth McGovern, but doesn't get far. So much for him. Kevin Bacon is tempted to have an affair with a woman he meets at what looks to be about the world's lousiest nightclub, but does not. Meanwhile, for no reason that is ever explained beyond conforming with the wishes of her parents, McGovern is overtaken with an uncontrollable urge to reproduce asap and decides to lay off the contraception, without informing KB. However, when he is confronted with the fact that he is firing blanks, he takes steps to address the situation by wearing boxer shorts of a less constricting nature than the undies he was previously swanning around in, and in less time than it takes to tell, has succeeded in knocking her up. Unfortunately, by this stage the movie is nearly over, so anyone who has been sucked into seeing a film that might have been presumed from its title to have an overwhelmingly maternal or even gestational theme, will have blown their rental dough.
Only the last twenty moments or so of the film deal with the particular problems of impending parenthood. When commercials have been accounted for, this is about the running length of a situation comedy episode, and anyone who has ever seen an episode of a situation comedy where a character has a baby will know what to expect in the way of hilarity (father- to-be gets so flustered he drives off to the hospital without mother-to-be) and drama (midwife explaining to father-to-be that there have been complications). The dedicated medical staff get junior safely out, however, and that would be the happy ending.
John Hughes can be a director of genius. For instance, the scene in "The Breakfast Club" where Ally Sheedy's character draws a pen sketch of a cottage in a wintry landscape, and then provides the snow to perfect the scene by shaking her dandruff onto it, is a moment of such deft cinema that every time I see it I want to stand up and cheer. Regrettably, I have to report, there is nothing half so inspired in "She's Having a Baby".
John Hughes explaining to Kevin Bacon that he wants him to impregnate Elizabeth McGovern in this film
A friend of mine put forward an interesting theory about John Hughes films. He said, what happens in them, or what happens in the best ones, is you have a group of young characters who present as basically little more than cardboard cut-out stereotypes; but that in the course of the movie, one by one, they have these moments where they take on the depth of real, multifaceted personalities, for maybe as long as 15 minutes at a time, before retreating back into cardboard. James, I think you are on to something there, but it needs work. That is, I think this is what happens, but I don't believe it is John Hughes's conscious film-making technique. The reason I mention this theory is that, applied to "She's Having a Baby," it would certainly not qualify as one of the best John Hughes films. Only Kevin Bacon ever looks like emerging as a fully-rounded character. He is also presented as being about 10 times more attractive than his wife, what with the camera lingering on his chiselled features for long periods (especially in the nightclub scenes) and with him taking off his shirt wherever possible.
In fact, for a chick flick, and one, for goodness' sake, dedicated to the director's wife, who was going through her own pregnancy at the time of the project's, um, conception, the tone of "She's Having a Baby" is surprisingly misogynist. When Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern are exchanging vows, instead of the standard lines of the marriage service, the clergyman requires Kevin Bacon to say "I will" to an extended question that basically asks if he will love, honour and obey some heinous bitch who is going to cramp his lifestyle and ruin his life. The rest of the episodes of the movie can be read as so many confirming instances of this prediction.
Poor Elizabeth McGovern. She is, surely, one of the strangest looking actresses to ever have made a bid for sex-symbol status. There are moments, in "She's having a Baby" and in every film she has ever made, when she looks like one of the most exquisitely beautiful actresses ever to have appeared in a Hollywood film. And, at other times, she can look so moon-faced and blank that you wonder if she might not have re-united with Kevin Bacon again in "Apollo XIII" to play the lunar surface.
Without meaning to be cruel, to be brutally frank about it, Elizabeth McGovern always looks like a 17 year old girl who has a little puppy fat, but who is going to shed that anytime now and really come into her own. She was born in 1961. That means when she made "She's Having a Baby" she was 26 or 27. She is 41 now, and still looks like a 17 year old who is about to blossom. I would have been more than happy to fall in love with Elizabeth McGovern's character in "She's Having a Baby," in the same way I fell in love with Ally Sheedy's and Molly Ringwald's characters in "The Breakfast Club," but I just couldn't do it, because there is nothing there to fall in love with, since she doesn't make any witty remarks, and doesn't display the least sense of mischief, and in fact doesn't do anything remotely unusual or interesting or intriguing for just about all of the movie. Against that, there are a handful of scenes where she is presented as a positively unpleasant character, such as when she kicks Kevin Bacon out of bed for inviting Alec Baldwin and his girlfriend to sleep in one of the spare bedrooms of their house rather than put up in a motel. The scenes where she is trying to fall pregnant, and where she whines to a reluctant Kevin Bacon that he is required to service her right now because she is at an optimum point of fertility, are particularly unfortunate because they played without any accompanying sensuality whatsoever.
I'll be right with you. I just want to drink myself insensible first.
I ought to say that, as an actress, I like Elizabeth McGovern a lot. She has never really made it big, but she has starred in some pretty good movies over the years, and she has never been less than interesting no matter what she has been in. My favourite Elizabeth McGovern would probably be the film I know as "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" but which would possibly be better known to my American readers as "Tune in Tomorrow" and she was also particularly good in Steven Soderberg's criminally underrated flop "The King of the Hill." If someone else had been playing the role of the mother-to-be in "She's Having a Baby," she might have come across as unlikeable, whereas Elizabeth McGovern could play Lady Macbeth and make you just want to hug her. And the puppy fat thing I mentioned is probably a bonus for Kevin Bacon's character in "She's Having a Baby" since it means he doesn't have to worry about whether or not his little boy will have chubby cheeks, which he might otherwise have had to do, as he tends a bit towards the cadaverous himself.
So, my verdict on "She's Having a Baby" is that it is watchable, but probably not as good as the similarly themed Molly Ringwald movie from the same era, "For Keeps" (although I would have to see "For Keeps" before I could confirm this statement) and is not a patch on "Parenthood."
The parents-to-be go shopping for names for the baby boy.
The best scene in the whole movie comes after the credits, in a sequence where a dozen or so celebrities including Penny Marshall, Dan Ackroyd, Olivia Newton John, Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, and other give soundbites about the name they would bestow on a boy child. If I had done the same straw pole at WD, I imagine I would have gotten responses along the lines of Hulk; Stone Cold; The Rock; Rocky (hey and he could have Dennis as his middle name); Dylan; Brando; Dawson; Pacey; Maximus; Kurt; Keanu; and my guess would be that Matthew IV might want to pass the spendid name Matthew down to yet another generation. Hey, did I mention, that Matthew Broderick was one of the celebrities who offered his suggestions to the name game. Hey, what about that terrific Matthew Broderick? The screen absolutely lights up for the 10 seconds worth of time he contributes to "She's Having a Baby." That ought to be enough to let you know that he is the man to be watching for, in the next instalment of this series.