Maybe Baby

on August 24, 2001 by Wade Major
   There's a delicate and sometimes unsettling balancing act at the center of "Maybe Baby," a rather serious story of a British couple's struggle with infertility that veers in and out of a fairly zany satire of the British entertainment industry.

   The feature writing and directing debut for television comedy veteran Ben Elton (who struck gold with "The Young Ones" and soared to success with "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill" writer Richard Curtis on "Blackadder"), the story of "Maybe Baby" will be familiar to anyone who has already read Elton's novel "Inconceivable," on which it is based. Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson star as Sam and Lucy Bell, a happily married couple desperate to bring progeny into the midst of that happiness. Both of them also happen to work in the British entertainment biz: Sam is a commissioning editor with the BBC and Lucy is a talent agent. Job stress is therefore something both are used to, but even those simple stresses seem to be magnified a thousandfold when the possibility of infertility and all of its attendant experimental solutions enter the picture.

   To help cope with the situation, Sam begins turning his and Lucy's experiences into a script, which is eventually authorized and put into production--only without Lucy's knowledge or approval.

   On the whole, "Maybe Baby" is both poignant and outrageously funny, skillfully alternating between the two extremes so that the picture never seems exploitative or crass. It's meaningful when it needs to be and riotously irreverent when the audience needs it to be. Elton has also called in a barrel of favors in the form of cameos that represent a who's who of British situation comedy royalty: Joanna Lumley, Rowan Atkinson, Dawn French and even Oscar-winner Emma Thompson make memorable appearances. It's Laurie and Richardson, however, who anchor the film's emotional center, giving audiences a realistic set of circumstances and personalities with which nearly anyone, with or without children, should be able to identify.

   Excellent supporting work from James Purefoy as a hunky movie star and Tom Hollander as a self-absorbed Scottish filmmaker add depth and color to the already commendable achievement. The very fine Adrian Lester, meanwhile, is adequate but underused in his role as Sam's confidant and coworker.

   Some may struggle with the film's abrupt shift in tone during the final third as light-hearted romantic comedy gives way to portentous drama without so much as the slightest advance warning. While it all works out in the end, it's still something of a shock to the system that could at least partially marginalize what is an otherwise wonderfully rich and intelligent filmmaking debut. Starring Hugh Laurie, Joely Richardson, Adrian Lester, James Purefoy, Tom Hollander and Joanna Lumley. Directed and written by Ben Elton. Produced by Phil McIntyre. A USA release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for sexual content and language. Running time: 93 min

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