Baby Boom is one of those few comedies from the 1980's which retains its wit, charm and social relevance today, despite being an obvious cultural product of its time. The movie stars the lovely Diane Keaton who is the heart and soul of this movie, and the main reason why we root for the main character. She leads a cast of other familiar, but unappreciated talents, including Pat Hingle (who played the original Comissioner Gordon from the first four Batman movies), Sam Wanamaker (a longtime actor who also has superhero roots from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), and James Spader (yet another participant in the nefarious Baby Boom/superhero conspiracy with his role as Ultron in the second Avengers movie). Spader steals just about every scene he's in, with a performance which is only slightly broader than his white-bread portrayal as a Yuppie lawyer in Wall Street, but more tongue-in-cheek.
The movie introduces us to Keaton's character, J.C. Wiatt, who is the embodiment of corporate climbing ambition and wholehearted Yuppiness. (Her name alone demands to be wrapped in a power tie.) She is trying to climb the corporate ladder and embraces her Manhattan lifestyle (pun intended). Viewers get a capsule look at her superficial practices, including robotic sexual practices, a dry relationship with boyfriend Steven Buchner (played by Harold Ramis), and her generally self-serious demeanor for the first ten minutes of the movie and the results are fun if not stereotypical. J.C.'s life changes drastically when she is given the responsibility of raising her young and recently orphaned niece Elizabeth (played by twins Kristina and Michelle Kennedy at age one), which adversely affects her relationship and her work. In short order, her boyfriend leaves her and she feels pushed away by her male-dominated company because of her sudden motherhood.
Looking for a change, she retreats to Vermont (directly bypassing a stay over at Bob Newhart's Stratford Inn) and purchases a large home surrounded by acres of clean land. She makes earnest efforts to adjusting to small-town life, including cooking and canning an endless harvest of apples, but a series of unfortunate events show up and uproot her new life. Freezing winters, bad pipes, dry wells, and general homesickness make her long for the cultural sophistication of city life. Her fish-out-of-water mishaps, which would seem tiresome and cliche in another movie, works well thanks to Ms. Keaton's talents. When J.C.'s money pit of a house causes her to breakdown in front of a stanger, and then further expose her vulnerability to a doctor (a veterinarian played by Sam Shepherd), her performance is funny, touching and convincing without making her character look weak.
Soon, our heroine begins to recover from her funk by making and then distributing her homemade supply of applesauce (charmingly marketed as "Country Baby" brand), which soon becomes a hit locally and beyond. Her entrepreneurial ways re-open doors back to city life, where her old office offers the business partnership she once coveted. In the end she is left with a decision to return to her old life, or continue with her new one.
Despite my enthusiasm for this movie, it should be noted that neither the direction by Charles Shyer, nor the script co-written by his wife Nancy Myers are particularly remarkable (although I prefer this film over their other collaborations like Private Benjamin, Father of the Bride, and Irreconciiable Differences). The overall humor is at the level of a good 1980's network sitcom, but supporting characters rarely exhibit more than two dimensions. Keaton's breakup with her boyfriend is done so suddently and dismissively that it makes his shallow character all the more disagreeable (though it's difficult to dislike Dr. Egon Spengler (Ghostbusters) himself). When Keaton considers putting the baby up for adoption, the potential parents are stereotyped as your typical hicks from Duluth, and the jokes against them are shallow and obvious. Potential babysitters are characterized by their ethnic background with the exception of Victoria Jackson (remember her from the godawful 1980's SNL period?) who resorts naturally to playing the dumb blonde bimbo. When it comes to the kid's behavior, the movie predictably relies on slapstick comedy (the baby is able to throw a handful of spaghetti at Keaton with deadly accuracy, and completely mangle a pair of glasses worn by Ramis) which would be right at home in movies like Three Men and a Baby or Mr. Mom. Surprisingly, the young child (or baby stunt double) is sometimes handled rather roughly to get a few laughs though I am sure no harm was done to the toddlers portrayed in this movie. For anyone who has seen Chevy Chase's underrated Funny Farm (which came out one year later), there are distinctive similarites shared by Baby Boom both in theme and broadly caricaturized portrayals of small-town life, and watching the two movies back to back maybe worth an experiment.
The movie is somewhat dated by all the mid-tempo pop songs which could have been sung anonymously by Christopher Cross, Carly Simon, James Taylor as written by Marvin Hamlisch or Burt Bacharach. A saxophone melody which may have been "borrowed" from St. Elmo's Fire, makes a frequent appearance on the score as writen by Bill Conti, whose work for The Right Stuff is one of my favorites.
Still, this movie is Diane Keaton's main event all the way, and the evolution of her character conveys the themes and messages of the screenplay (the merits of Yuppie-dom, working moms, traditional values versus modern life and other social observations) without being strident or political. At its most ambitious, it's a statement on the conflicts facing women of the eighties (and presently). At the very least, it's an enjoyable comedy featuring one woman and a baby.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray:
Baby Boom is delivered to your home from MGM Studios and 20th Century Fox by the good people at Twilight Time, a company which brings neglected classics back to life with their special catalog of titles, with emphasis on outstanding scores and soundtracks. This title is limited to 3000 copies. The 50 GB disc contains both movie and supplements, encased in a Blu-ray keep case with dual-sided cover art plastered with full-color pictures and text. The insert features the original VHS and DVD boxcover photo, and features an essay by Julie Kirgo accompanied by stills.
Baby Boom is presented in AVC/MPEG-4 encoded 1080p high definition, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Given the age and modest budget, it's not surprising to see that the main feature is a mixed-bag when it comes to visual quality, and the inconsistencies probably have more to do with the original cinematography than the mastering of the Blu-ray disc. Overall, the picture is soft and grainy, typical of most 1980's comedies and probably due to the movie's literal focus on the main character (Diane Keaton was around 41 years old when the picture was made). There are moments where images look almost blurry depending on the close-ups or medium shots. Still, the high definition picture reveals enough detail so that all the imperfections of mere mortals are ruthlessly revealed, including unflattering shots of Sam Sheperd's teeth.
Colors are presented naturally, with the cold concrete and glass structures in the city contrasting nicely with the warm browns and golds of the country. Reds, blues and yellows appear cheery and bright on the kid's toys and on clothing, without looking cartoonish or artificial. While not qualifying as demo material on your new 75-inch, 4k screen, Baby Boom looks pleasing enough when you just want to sit back and relax without any critical viewing. I imagine that this is the best the picture has ever looked outside of its theatrical debut from thirty years back.
The main soundtrack is presented in two-channel stereo, encoded as a DTS-HD Master Audio with limited dynamics except when it comes to the score's pop songs which are bright and more dynamic. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, although there were a few brief instances where the audio did not appear to be in perfect sync with the picture. Deep bass and low frequency effects are generally absent in this movie except in scenes, though my subwoofer did make it's presence known in a scene with a landing airplane.
A second audio track spotlighing music and sound effects naturally give the songs and score even greater clarity, thought fidelity is still modest. For audio enthusiasts, let it be known that midrange and treble comprise most of the soundtrack and turning on your high-powered, multi-channel receiver is purely optional.
There is third audio track featuring audio commentary by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, which is very active from beginning to end. Their voices come through distincly and override the main soundtrack when active. Subtitles are available in English for the main feature, but not for the commentary track.
Original Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:05). This is a cute, lighthearted preview which openly jokes about Yuppie culture, and spotlights Keaton's obvious charisma.
Isolated Music & Effects Track. A second track provides music and sound effects to highlight the work of Bill Conti with respectable audio quality. Since no soundtrack was ever made for release on CD or any other media (meaning tapes and vinyl, as opposed to downloads), this Blu-ray is probably the closest fans will ever get to having a separate score and songs. And at the very least, hearing all those isolated sound effects will make one appreciate the work of Foley artists and sound editors
Audio Commentary (with Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman). As with most Twilight Time releases, the commentary tracks are informative, detailed and full of insight. Ms. Kirgo is especially engaging in her observations about the production of the movie (I had forgotten that longtime journalist and writer Linda Ellerbee provides the opening narration), its political and social setting, and what she enjoys most about what is onscreen. Nick Redman also provides thoughtful observations, and the two work well together in making a fine film all the more enjoyable.
Essay by Julie Kirgo: Ms. Kirgo provides a three-page write-up in a photo-illustrated insert. Like the commentary, the essay is an appreciation of the movie which should enlighten event those who might dismiss Baby Boom as just another Reagan Revolution comedy.
Diane Keaton elevates what is simply "pretty good" material into a level of near greatness, in a way that other actresses of the 1980's (like, say, Kate Jackson who assumed this role in an ill-fated TV adaptation) could not. I really enjoyed Baby Boom when it first debuted in theaters and have an even deeper appreciation of it now. Highly Recommended.