Maybe Baby

(Ben Elton, UK/France, 2000)


One should never judge a film solely on the basis of the cultural markers or preferred lifestyle that it displays.

However, in the case of Ben Elton's directorial debut, Maybe Baby, it is hard to maintain objectivity. Songs by Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello; a main character with a job at the BBC; glimpses of trendy London wine bars; unrestrained cameos by Emma Thompson and Rowan Atkinson ... Elton targets his audience precisely, and I happen not to be a member of it.

There is a mildly tricky, vaguely autobiographical element at the heart of Maybe Baby. Elton has stated that the story is inspired by the real-life problems he and his wife had while trying to conceive a child. In fact, his alter ego, Sam (Hugh Laurie), is a comedy writer – suffering from a block, but aspiring to write a movie that will be "real" and "sad". So he secretly starts transcribing the travails of himself and Lucy (Joely Richardson) in their quest for parenthood.

Maybe Baby is the latest from a small school of British comedy writers who hail from television programs such as Blackadder and Mr Bean. Elton's posturing at the head of this school is explicit: he turns his back on the sheer vulgarity of Benny Hill, but also distances himself from anything even faintly arty or pretentious (thus the laborious parody of a supposedly hip director played very broadly by Tom Hollander).

Elton's own formula for "real" comedy mixes character foibles, a few pratfalls, mild social satire, politically correct tokenism, and mockery of any lifestyle deviating from that of the cosy central characters. As in Notting Hill (1999), the attempt to mimic and customise the conventions of Hollywood romantic comedy results in a film which is clunky and obvious in every one of its plot devices.

There are some charming and amusing moments (I laughed twice), and Laurie reveals a hitherto unseen Fred Astaire-like quality of quiet diffidence.

Unfortunately, what Elton has yet to learn about the art and craft of direction could fill a library. The film is full of awkward moments, off-kilter timing, boring images and actors left to their own devices.

Whenever in doubt, Elton simply fades up another of his favourite middle-of-the-road pop standards.

© Adrian Martin August 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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