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Tina Fey hatches hilarity in chick flick

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Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

As a big fan of TV’s whacky “30 Rock,” I expected great things from Tina Fey in her leading lady debut, “Baby Mama,” now playing at the Staunton Mall Cinemas. I wasn’t disappointed.

What last year’s over-ballyhooed “Knocked Up” could have been, “Baby Mama” is. And although not written by writer/actor Fey herself – that kudo goes to Michael McCullors – it’s full of all the charm and wit we’ve come to expect from any Tina Fey project.

It’s the tale of a successful businesswoman who wants a baby and learns she cannot conceive herself. She hires a surrogate: fellow “Saturday Night Live” chum Amy Poehler playing a classic White Trashette. As you might imagine, hilarity ensues as class and lifestyles clash.

I don’t want to spoil the fun by giving away plot points, but Poehler’s ne’er-do-well, beer-swilling hubby shows up to complicate matters. Funnyman Dax Shepard could easily have overplayed this stereotyped lowbrow role, but aided by a fine script, rises well above it and gives a bravura performance.

The rich girl/poor girl buddy film is grandly supported by a herd of perfectly-cast actors. Steve Martin plays Fey’s corporate boss, an offbeat genius type and head of “Round World Food Stores,” a take-off of the upscale Whole Foods Market chain. Sigourney Weaver, Maura Tierney and Holland Taylor add layers of laughs, and Romany Marco (from TV’s “Weeds”) is deadpan super playing the doorman at Fey’s swank residence.

I’ve been both hoping and dreading that Tina would move into full-length films after her brilliant turns with “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” But so many SNL grads have crashed and burned that I feared for her debut. I shouldn’t have worried. She does not desert her own strength, which is an understanding of absurdist comedy and her ability to play the perfect straight-man. Or woman. Whatever.

She is, by the way, a UVa. grad.

Of course, there has to be a love interest, and I was pleased to see Greg Kinnear in this role. Ever since I first noticed him, a nervous-Nelly type in 1995’s “Sabrina,” I’ve watched him grow into a pleasant and confident leading actor, with a comfortable “average man” aura. He does an excellent job here as the owner of a small juice bar.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this film has done so well on its opening weekend, considering the competition: the latest dopey entry in the “Harold and Kumar” unfunny franchise that (undoubtedly) drew most of the younger crowd. Perhaps it’s the lure of a popular and quality TV show. Wonders, it seems, never cease.

Meanwhile, back at the Dixie:

I just have to call your attention to a show coming to the Dixie in Downtown Staunton next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. It’s a live performance by Rhythm Road, the renamed and all new and (if possible) improved version of the Shenandoah Valley’s greatest pop musical group, Wanda and the White Boys. It’s a benefit performance for the Staunton Performing Arts Center, so help yourself to some great music while helping out a great organization.

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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