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Film Review : Satire That Lowers The 'Baby Boom'

October 07, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

"Baby Boom" (opening today at selected theaters) should strike fear in the heart of every avowedly single workaholic, those of us who put in 12-hour days, with everything else in life second. The worst that could happen to us is for someone to stick us with an infant, right? Who knows from diapers? Who wants to know?

This is just what that clever husband-and-wife film-making team of Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers have done to Diane Keaton, cast as J. C. Wiatt, known in her Manhattan office as the "Tiger Lady" for her wizardry as a management consultant with a six-figure salary.

Just as her boss (Sam Wanamaker) advises her that a partnership is in the offing she finds that she's been named guardian of the baby daughter, Elizabeth (played by adorable, gurgly twins Kristina and Michelle Kennedy), of a distant cousin and his wife killed in a car crash. No way is she going to keep the child, but then she gets a load of the American Gothic couple lined up to adopt her and take her back to Duluth. For openers, they're going to call her Fern.

You know very well that Keaton is not going to give up Elizabeth, and Shyer and Meyers know you know. (He directs, she produces, and they co-write.) Where the fun comes in is in all that happens to Keaton when she tries to balance career and motherhood. Shyer and Meyers, who did the mischievous "Irreconcilable Differences" and are just about the wittiest film makers in Hollywood today, are endlessly inventive.

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.

They've also presented Diane Keaton with a dream part. She's funny, she's smart, she's sexy, she's tough and she's vulnerable--all at the same time. What's more, she looks absolutely smashing in Susan Becker's smart career woman costumes, which remind you of the sensational contemporary clothes that Edith Head did for the great stars. (In case you never got the chance to notice before, Keaton has terrific legs.) Keaton in "Baby Boom" brings back memories of Hepburn and Colbert in their salad days.

The test of film comedy, especially when it involves a degree of satire, is in the shifting of tone, often accompanied by a change of locale, as in the move from Southern California to Mexico in "10." Having skewered yuppie mores and high-powered, male chauvinist office politics, the Shyers pack J. C. off to 62 acres of Vermont countryside where she quickly learns about loneliness--and the expensive realities of leaky roofs, faulty heating and dry wells behind those beguiling Norman Rockwell New England images, captured in all their Christmas card perfection by ace cinematographer William Fraker.

What the Shyers are finally saying is that a woman--or a man, for that matter--can in fact have it all but that you had better be prepared to make some crucial adjustments as the price exacted. We're also reminded of the old truth that sometimes you get something you thought you wanted badly only to discover you didn't want it after all. "Baby Boom" starts out as a comedy about a career woman coping with an unexpected and initially unwanted motherhood, but then the child becomes a catalyst in transforming an individual's priorities and entire way of life.

The Shyers have lined up some splendid support for their star. At the office, besides the charming but steely Wanamaker, there's James Spader's upwardly mobile type, the embodiment of every glib and ruthless climber you ever regretted having given a boost up the corporate ladder, and there's Pat Hingle's tough-minded client. Harold Ramis is Keaton's live-in lover and fellow workaholic--they're able to make love in four minutes flat by the clock! --who's quickly scared off by Elizabeth. When things are at lowest ebb for J. C. in Vermont, who should pop up but a dryly confident Sam Shepard, cast as the local veterinarian? It's a measure of "Baby Boom's" shrewdness and respect for J. C.'s resilience that Keaton doesn't automatically respond to him as a knight in shining armor. Again, the Shyers know that, of course, we know that he is Prince Charming--it just takes J. C. a while to realize it. The Shyers also trust their audience to be sufficiently hip not to have to explain all their modish references. This inviting sense of complicity is a large part of the irresistible charm of "Baby Boom" (MPAA-rated: PG).

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