My Thoughts: She’s Having A Baby (1988)
I haven’t ever felt badly after viewing a John Hughes movie before. From Ferris Bueller to Sixteen Candles to Home Alone, I was never bored by any of his pics. Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Hughes only true “adult” movie, is a triumph of 1980s screenwriting and acting. So it’s sad to watch She‘s Having A Baby, another so-called “grown up“ pic. Even with a few good scenes, it’s easily the most boring movie with Hughes’s name attached to it. And a weak Hughes flick to me is strangely disheartening.
Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern star as Jake and Kristy Briggs, a couple of recent college graduates with minimal career aspirations and undying love for one another. For the first few minutes, Kevin Bacon gives an extremely boring voiceover chronicling his life from meeting his fiance until college graduation.
After faking a resume, he interviews with a Leo Burnett-like Chicago advertising agency, and in one of the film‘s few funny scenes, executives played by Paul Gleason and Dennis Dugan grill him and quickly offer him work as a copywriter.
She’s Having A Baby follows a totally predictable sequence from this point forward. Like all moderately creative movie characters, Jake dreams of one day quitting his day job in the corporate world and writing a groundbreaking novel. Eventually, though, the couple is mired in a firmly middle-class lifestyle. Jake and Kristy buy a three-bedroom house in a small suburban development that is chock-full of neighbors who seem to be quirky, but are really just drab.
Based on the descriptive title, you can guess that, after one of those ridiculous dinner table conversation with both Jake’s and Kristy’s parents, she’ll become pregnant, they’ll struggle through the pregnancy and she’ll have a baby. Jake’s friend from college (Alec Baldwin, hilariously charming as always) will keep showing up only to give his friend useless advice and make a pass at his wife. Jake’s novel, even if it is a piece of shit, will eventually be published. We’ve seen it all before, done better.
The hugest problems with She’s Having A Baby are its clunky pacing and staggering lack of originality. Where movies like The Breakfast Club might have fallen off in the final frames, there was still a wonderful momentum to the conversation. Even in Ferris Bueller, Cameron and Ferris were funny and at least halfway interesting (not to mention fun). In this movie, there are a few amusing exchanges, but they hardly show insight (example: suburban husbands argue over which types of lawn mowers are most reliable). Kevin Bacon’s narration throughout the movie is likewise unnecessary.
Instead of actually writing a literate screenplay, Hughes chooses to inundate the movie with cornball sight gags, which work about half of the time. A good one involves a goofy song-and-dance number centering on–you guessed it–lawn mowers. And there is a laugh-out-loud scene during Jake and Kristy’s wedding early on and an inspired coupling of “Working on the Chain Gang” with a sex scene.
The rest of the gags are comparatively weak, seeming to be minor daydreams in the life of an average 20-something executive. Immediately after these fantasies run their course, Hughes thrusts us into the movie’s next predictable plot development. And the movie just keeps chugging along like that: plot development, daydream, plot development, daydream.
Yet, as we’re bombarded with one banal joke after another concerning birth control and impotence, we’re only yearning for the spontaneity and hilarity of Long Duk Dong’s fall from the top of a sycamore in Sixteen Candles. Even if some of the pratfalls in She’s Having A Baby are good, they still feel drained of the originality evident in most of Hughes’ other pictures.
In the closing sequence, Hughes abandons all intentions of rom-com and chooses to chronicle a weepy melodrama where the birth of the couple’s child looks like it might not go smoothly. While Jake has corny flashbacks to all of the good times he and his wife shared, you can cue up the gratuitous ’80s easy-listening tunes.
To cherry-top the whole thing, Jake, still the aspiring writer, muses: “And in the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, I was trusted more than I trusted, and I was loved more than I loved. And what I was looking for was not to be found but to be made.”
This ridiculous quote from his obviously soon-to-be-published novel shows us why good movies about writing hardly ever get made. It’s tough to make writing exciting in a film and becomes nearly impossible when we realize that the main character isn’t a very good writer.
Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern, when in the right roles, are exceptional actors. Perhaps you’ll remember one of McGovern’s best and most touching performances in Ordinary People, or Kevin Bacon’s turn as the hilarious but irresponsible Fenwick in Diner. However, in She’s Having a Baby, Bacon’s fully wrong. Though not without charm, Bacon is simply too mischievous to be playing a suburban husband. In later years, films like Mystic River and A Few Good Men would show that he had dramatic chops, but in 1988, Bacon was too much of a give-a-shit, humorous actor to play a self-serious yuppie. And while McGovern is well-cast, she’s given little of substance to say. The rest of the players in the film simply provide stock background characters with only Gleason and Baldwin giving us mildly memorable supporting turns.
While watching She’s Having A Baby, I was endlessly reminded of how hard I laughed during Sixteen Candles and how much I sympathized with the characters in The Breakfast Club. That made the experience of watching this film all the more depressing. Renowned sociologists could study characters like John Bender, Ferris Bueller and Samantha Baker. They carried entire pictures. Jake and Kristy Briggs might be more successful at getting a 21-minute TV pilot off the ground.