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Engaging Performance by Diane Keaton
on January 13, 2002
As anyone who has walked a mile or two knows, life is about choices and making decisions. And a lot of that has to do with realizing and setting priorities, because-- as a wise person once said-- You Can't Have It All. It's the lesson we all learn in our own way in our own time, according to our own personal situation, and director Charles Shyer examines one of them in his amiable comedy, "Baby Boom," starring Diane Keaton.
J.C. Wiatt (Keaton) is a high-powered businesswoman on the fast track to success; she knows what she wants, has set her priorities, and a partnership in the firm for which she works is on the horizon. Her live-in significant other, Steven (Harold Ramis), is of a like mind-set, so they complement one another's life style perfectly. Marriage and/or having children is in neither of their respective vocabularies. then one day, J.C. "inherits" a baby, the child of a distant relative (a cousin she'd met only once) who has been killed in a tragic accident, and suddenly, J.C.'s world is turned upside down. Keeping the baby is out of the question, of course. Or is it? For J.C., it just may not be as simple as it seems, initially. She's been living life on her own terms, but now she is once again faced with choices, decisions and setting priorities. And along the way, she learns one of life's most important lessons: The fact that the lesson never ends.
There's some amusing moments and some insights to be gleaned from Shyer's film, and overall it's a pleasant, enjoyable experience. It is not, however, an entirely original idea, and Shyer laces it with stereotypes and cliches to boot. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. If his characters are stereotypical, it's because they reflect a certain realism. J.C.'s boss, Fritz Curtis (Sam Wanamaker), for instance, typifies the image of a dedicated, hard-core businessman whom you get the feeling has to consult his day planner to work in an appointment with his own family. A stereotype? Perhaps. A reflection of reality? Definitely. The same can be said for Sam Shepard's character, Dr. Jeff Cooper, who personifies the general image of one in his situation. And again, it is a reflection of reality, stereotypical though it may be.
Even the cliches are handled in a way that makes them fresh enough to work within the context of the story, and be appreciated-- especially by those in the audience who may have experienced any of the situations presented here. When J.C. fumbles with a diaper and becomes frustrated with her own inexperience and incompetence with such things, it's cliche, but it also rings true-to-life. The important thing is, it's all well presented and actually pretty funny stuff, even if it isn't anything new.
Shyer wrote the screenplay, along with Nancy Meyers, and one angle they may have failed to cultivate fully has to do with Ken, the character played by James Spader. As J.C.'s in-house adversary, also striving to climb the corporate ladder, it may have been intrinsically more interesting had the character been a woman. The fact that Ken is a man, again, makes this particular situation fairly cliche; whereas a competitive conflict with another woman, considering J.C.'s predicament, would have expanded the avenues of possibility to a much greater extent, and certainly would have provided a more imaginative perspective.
The main reason the film works as well as it does, however, is because of the engaging performance by Diane Keaton. In J.C., she creates the antithesis of Annie Hall, but even at her most demanding there is a hint of vulnerability in J.C., a softness to that hard exterior edge she uses to shoulder her way through the business world. Keaton gives you a real sense of the conflict she's experiencing, and though it's lightheartedly rendered for the most part, you understand the underlying seriousness of it all. And the scene in which she vents her frustrations and bares her soul to Dr. Cooper is classic. Keaton's work is without question the highlight of the film, and what really brings it to life.
The supporting cast includes Pat Hingle (Hughes Larabee), Britt Leach (Verne), Kim Sebastian (Robin), Mary Gross) Charlotte, Patricia Estrin (Secretary)Victoria Jackson (Eve), Jane Elliot (Park Mom) and Linda Ellerbee (Narrator). An upbeat, entertaining film, "Baby Boom" may not be particularly memorable, but it does provide some laughs, and at the same time says something about the value of being given the opportunity to question the things we "think" we want. Kind of like saying "Never say never." After all, who can say with any certainty where destiny may lead any of us? It's something a film like this may make you consider, inbetween the chuckles. It's the magic of the movies.