I’ve attempted to write this review for six months, but as the saying goes, it’s hard to be objective about something you like. So I won’t. The truth is I love this movie – full throttle – and have been watching it at least once a year since it was released in 1987. It’s influenced everything I value, from Jeep Grand Wagoneers with wood paneling to 80’s montages to yellow farmhouses to applesauce. I love Baby Boom so much that Andy graciously agreed to name our bookstore LLC after its heroine, J.C. Wiatt, played by Diane Keaton.
And what’s not to love with stellar actors such as Harold Ramis playing J.C.’s stodgy, driven live-in boyfriend or James Spader as J.C.’s underling with grand ambitions? Then there’s Sam Shepherd, not as the awkward and bumbling Doc Porter of Crimes of the Heart but as a sexy, country veterinarian with an easy smile. There’s even a voiceover by Linda Ellerbee (LINDA ELLERBEE!) in the beginning of the film introducing J.C. Wiatt as an accomplished New York City workaholic with a corner office and a six-figure salary.
The premise of the film, written and produced by then married duo Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, is classic romantic-comedy hijinks. Childless J.C. Wiatt is about to make partner at her marketing firm when she learns that long lost relatives in England have died, leaving her their infant daughter, Elizabeth. At first, J.C. is resistant, even visiting an adoption agency, but she grows attached to Elizabeth and in deciding to keep her, attempts to make 80-hour work weeks fit within single motherhood. A balancing act ensues with J.C.’s boss demoting her to a dog food account, saying “You’ve gone soft, J.C.” as the reason. Undeterred, J.C. follows her lifelong dream of moving to Vermont by buying a car and farmhouse with land, only to discover the house’s host of problems that drain her wallet and sanity. Determined to get her New York life back, she develops Country Baby, a series of gourmet baby foods that eventually turns successful. Love follows success and the film wraps with a “See, she can do it all” moment.
Despite the implausible plot – there are hints throughout that the story is a fairytale – the comedy is a classic, with sight gags such as J.C. attempting to feed Elizabeth spaghetti, discovering her doctor is really a vet, and a hilarious attempt to change a tire on a snowy Vermont road. Keaton is in her element here – confident in a way she wasn’t as Woody Allen’s ingenue in Annie Hall and hasn’t been in her host of tepid comedies from the past ten years. More than comedy, the message of the film still rings true. Though J.C. is highly educated and successful, something is missing. Before the baby, she clips farmhouse listings and dreams of vacations she never takes. It’s not so much that Elizabeth makes her a mother, but it’s that having a child to take care of changes how J.C. sees the world and what she values, which doesn’t (and still doesn’t) fit into corporate America. You could easily view this film in any sociology or gender studies course and still find that much of it applies to how gender and work is discussed today.
Despite a few ultra smoky scenes (this film needs to be remastered, stat!), Baby Boom holds its own. It’s a feel-good nostalgic film with an important message that still resounds. It’s the film I watched with my mother every winter at this time, when the holidays were over and snow days kept us homebound. While I loved Act I (New York City) for its bustle and J.C.’s power, mom loved Act II (Vermont) for its beautiful country scenes and small town life. Of course she was right, as she was about so many things. I was afraid to watch the film after my mom died last summer, but doing so only made me proud that we shared such a fantastic and funny movie for so many years. In the words of Roger Ebert, Baby Boom makes no effort to show us real life. It is a fantasy about mothers and babies and sweetness and love, with just enough wicked comedy to give it an edge.” Some say that the romantic comedy is dead and I tend to agree. For lovers of the genre who don’t mind a break from reality, consider the words of Ebert and let Baby Boom be your escape.