She’s Having a Baby

She’s Having a Baby
Released: February 5, 2015
Directed by:  John Hughes
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth McGovern, Alec Baldwin
Availability: DVD, HBO Go/Now, Streaming for purchase or rental via iTunes and Amazon, Streaming for free via Hoopla if your local library has an account

John Hughes continues to explore more mature subject matter, Kevin Bacon finally stops playing a teenager, and we continue to explore a particularly fertile era in American cinema history, in She’s Having a Baby.

What’s it About?

Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern are Jake and Kristy, high school sweethearts about to be married after college.  Jake has second doubts outside the church, but his best friend Davis (Alec Baldwin) eventually convinces him to follow through with the nuptials.

Jake and Kristy move to New Mexico, where Jake is attending graduate school.  Jake has one of many freak-outs and he leaves school.  They settle down in suburban Chicago near their respective families.  Jake cons his way into a job writing ad copy, though he sees it as only a temporary stop on his way to becoming a writer.

Jake suffers from a number of psychic crises, primarily centered on the suburban lifestyle he’s found himself stuck in.  He also struggles with thoughts of infidelity with a woman he keeps running into, first at a night club, then at his ad agency, and finally in his own dreams.

Kristy, meanwhile, has stopped taking her birth control pills but has failed to inform Jake of this fact.  Despite this, they are unable to conceive.  After Jake finds out, they embark upon a doctor prescribed copulation regimen, subtly set to the tune of Sam Cooke’s “Working on a Chain Gang.”

It eventually works, as Kristy finally becomes pregnant.  Nine months later, Kristy goes into labor, but the baby is in a breach position.  The two young parents-to-be freak out separately in the hospital, but are soon reunited as they learn their baby has survived and their family has grown.

Cultural Impact

Throughout the middle part of the decade, John Hughes spent much of his energy exploring, quite effectively, the modern suburban teenager in films like Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  As the 1980s draw to a close, Hughes would begin to examine young adulthood in the same types of settings.  The suburbs represent a sort of existential crisis, it seems, for the creative class.  We’ve been exploring suburban angst on film since at least The Stepford Wives in 1975, and are still to this day conflicted by the seeming idyllic nature represented by the modern suburb, often depicting them as possessing a seedy underbelly rife with drugs, murder, and other unspeakable horrors.

It’s not quite so bleak for Kevin Bacon’s neighborhood in She’s Having a Baby.  Rather, he views his surroundings as simply boring and stifling his creativity.  His neighbors do little else besides discuss their lawns and lawn equipment (and perform choreographed dance numbers with said lawn equipment), which only serves to deepen his angst.

Released February 5, 1988, She’s Having a Baby struggled to find its audience.  It opened in fifth place, behind 1987 holdovers Good Morning, America, Moonstruck, and Three Men and a Baby, as well as Wes Craven’s new horror film, The Serpent and the Rainbow.  Obtaining $4 and a half million its first weekend, and $16 million overall, She’s Having a Baby is by far Hughes’ least successful directorial effort, a huge step down from previous years’ Ferris Bueller and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

She’s Having a Baby fared no better in its critical reception.  It currently holds a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Gene Siskel, in his review, described Bacon’s character as “such a complainer, that we wonder why McGovern doesn’t dump him.”  This is a thread common in many reviews: Bacon and McGovern were generally described as compelling actors, but the suburban angst didn’t really work.

Is It Any Good?

Despite the title, She’s Having a Baby does little in the way of exploring modern parenthood in the 1980s.  McGovern doesn’t reveal she’s pregnant until the 83 minute mark, and the movie ends minutes after the baby is delivered.  It probably would have been better if it did.  Indeed, Bacon’s Jake is an immensely immature and selfish man-child.  He complains incessantly, first about being tied down to one woman, then about grad school, then about the suburban hell he’s chosen for himself, even about having to switch what kind of underwear he wears.

Bacon spends much of the movie daydreaming, the results of which are often presented to the audience on screen.  These daydreams are vivid and surreal at times, but at other times are rather mundane, so it’s often difficult to ascertain whether the scene on display is really happening or is just a figment of Bacon’s imagination.  It also makes one wonder how accurate his chief complaint that his creativity is being stifled truly is.

Bacon and McGovern are both good actors, and are capable of portraying a remarkable range of emotion on screen.  It’s never really clear, though, why the two fell for each other in the first place.  They spend most of their time onscreen bickering with each other.  That’s when they’re on screen together: Bacon is the focal point of the film—it follows his story almost exclusively, and it seems he never sees his new wife, especially during the first half of the film.

There are better movies about the suburbs and there are better movies about pregnancy.  At over 100 minutes, She’s Having a Baby is kind of a drag that doesn’t deal with either subject particularly effectively.

 

 

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