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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Baby’ a Mixed Message on Marriage

In “She’s Having a Baby” (citywide), John Hughes seems to be crafting a comic movie valentine to approaching fatherhood. But is he? His intentions are tender and his eye sharp, but the movie has an odd, queasy edge to it. It’s cute. But, sometimes, it gets cold cute, ghastly cute. The effect is mixed--like a Norman Rockwell cover redrawn in Gahan Wilson’s style by a computer.

The story is narrated by young father-to-be Jake Briggs (Kevin Bacon). On some levels, Jake shares his creator’s biography. He’s a Chicago suburbanite, he works in advertising, he dreams of writing creatively. Whimsically, Jake tells us of his marriage to Kristy (Elizabeth McGovern), their tribulations and Kristy’s much-delayed pregnancy. He gives us witty little asides--and we’re also privy to his dreams, fantasies and monochrome flashback memories.

Some of this is recognizable, funny, charming. But there’s a nightmarish core the winsome veneer can’t quite conceal: one man’s anomie. The movie continually dwells on dark forces: the jags in Jake’s psyche, the fear and loathing summoned up by fatherhood.

The first scene presents his wedding as a nightmare and his impulsive escape with best buddy Davis (Alec Baldwin) as a tempting way out--and, from then on, Hughes plays up Jake’s panic, while ignoring Kristy’s.

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Elizabeth McGovern has a wonderful peaches-and-cream smile, a down-homey lilt to her lines. But despite these assets, Kristy remains an “other.” We’re never inside her mind--except for one peculiar scene, where Davis tries to seduce her: a scene which plays like another nightmare.

The nightmarishness is partly intentional. When Hughes uses two shock cuts obviously borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock--the mechanical scream from “The 39 Steps” and the eyeball-to-drain cut from “Psycho"--you can see he’s spoofing anxiety. And there are surreal little musical dream sequences--an office that closes in on Jake and a threatening seductress (Isabel Lorca) who keeps mysteriously popping up. But, somehow, you suspect this material has gotten out of control, that Jake is a more alienated, and alienating, character than Hughes intended.

We have to take Kristy’s and Jake’s love for each other on faith--based on a few dreamy flashbacks and radiant smiles. We have to imagine the scenes where the couple are warm, spontaneous and loving with each other because Hughes hasn’t written them.

Instead, we see an unhappy couple, quarreling incessantly. When they make love, it’s obscenely mechanical: Kristy barking out orders, toasting to “successful ovulation!” with the rock song “Chain Gang” providing the background for Jake’s frenzied exertions. Seldom has a movie which seems to want to celebrate the joys of happy, everyday married life wound up giving it such a black eye.

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Despite the movie’s cute, bright, well-designed lacquer, Jake and Kristy lead horrible lives. Their neighbors are grotesque dolts; their parents interfering meddlers; their friends absent or malign; their life a plastic, joyless, over-bright dud.

Not since David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” has a father seemed quite as unfit as Jake. Having him played by Kevin Bacon--an actor with an off-center, mocking smile and an air of deviltry--only increases the queasiness.

It’s possible Hughes focuses on marital discord because he thinks that’s where the humor lies. But, comically, this is the least sharp of his movies. Watching it, you might almost get the idea that Hughes made so many teen-age movies--defiant teen-age movies, in which the adults were unregenerate villains--not because of studio vogues, but because, in some half-conscious, way, he saw conventional adulthood as a kind of living death: the end of humor, adventure and the death of romance.

Truth to tell, if “She’s Having a Baby” were a funnier movie, if the fights were more cleverly written and Bacon and McGovern played them more deftly and lightly, it wouldn’t have that unpleasant edge--seesawing between romance and paranoia.

“She’s Having a Baby,” (MPAA rated PG-13), as much as Hughes’ script for “Mr. Mom,” shows marriage as a comic, uncontrollable, off-kilter horror that is beset by difficulties and demons. Interestingly, the little credits sequence at the end--when the fear is finished, and a number of people, including John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, offer suggestions for the baby’s name--may be the most charming thing in this movie.


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