For every married couple who have struggled without success to conceive a baby, there are dozens of well-wishers standing by, praying and kvetching. If the value of a film could be measured purely by the number of lives it spoke to, then "Maybe Baby" would be this year's "It's a Wonderful Life." But this new romantic comedy from the U.K. lands on an emotional gold mine only to spin it into synthetic straw.
The feature-film directing debut of British comic and novelist Ben Elton, "Maybe Baby" charts the very prolonged and public efforts of an otherwise fortunate London couple to fertilize. The inability of show business agent Lucy Bell (Joely Richardson) to get pregnant is certainly not for want of trying on the part of her husband, Sam (Hugh Laurie), a BBC-TV editor who will abandon a business meeting at the drop of a hat to take advantage of his wife's egg cycles.
The emptiness of Lucy's womb reflects the barren state of Sam's creativity, as he labors without a clue to generate story ideas to satisfy his company's aggressive new forays into feature filmmaking. When he decides that there is material for a nifty comedy in their baby problem, Lucy nixes the idea hands down. Succumbing to the pressure-cooker demands of his employer, Sam secretly plunders his domestic life, dipping into their personal conversations, tortuous hospital visits and Lucy's diary to generate scenes for a script. You can write the rest yourself, abetted by every gynecological endurance test or made-for-TV movie on childless couples you've survived. As the couple argue over who is suffering the most humbling hospital tests ("Well, if you're going to play the female card ... ," says a defeated Sam in one of the script's better lines), Lucy briefly succumbs to the overtures of one of her clients, a dashing actor who ends up playing Sam in the movie he writes from their trials and tribulations.
Elton has adapted the lavishly artificial "Maybe Baby" from his own novel "Inconceivable," but it seems to take its cue from the scenarios of Richard Curtis ("Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral"), boardroom-slick admixtures of mild eccentricity and Romance Channel goo. A supporting gallery assembled from England's finest (Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Joanna Lumley, Dawn French) gropes for nuance in sketchy cameo roles impersonating a host of dotty and/or well-meaning friends, colleagues and medics.
The droll exceptions are the usually insufferable Rowan Atkinson, who blithely re-creates the spirit of those old "Carry On" comedies as an instrument-happy gynecologist, and Tom Hollander, a slight-framed young actor who does a crisply satiric turn as the hipper-than-thou Scottish director who helms Sam's movie. Hollander's blunt-spoken character expresses concern about the show-biz tendency to commercialize serious issues, a failure of nerve that ultimately does in "Maybe Baby."
MPAA rating: R, for sexual content and language. Times guidelines: adult themes and humor; parental discretion recommended.
Hugh Laurie: Sam Bell
Joely Richardson: Lucy Bell
Adrian Lester: George
James Purefoy: Carl Phipps
Tom Hollander: Ewan Proclaimer
Joanna Lumley: Sheila
Rowan Atkinson: Mr. James
Emma Thompson: Druscilla
Pandora and BBC Films present a Phil McIntire production, released by USA Films. Director Ben Elton. Producer Phil McIntire. Executive producers Ernst Goldschmidt, David M. Thompson. Screenplay by Ben Elton, based on his novel "Inconceivable." Cinematographer Roger Lanser. Editor Peter Hollywood. Costume designer Anna Shepard. Music Colin Towns. Production designer Jim Clay. Art director Chris Seagers. Set decorator Maggie Gray. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun