Diane Keaton has been serviced well by the vast majority of her movies, but “Baby Boom” ranks high among the ones that have suited her best.
Within its main mission of being amusing, the 1987 film (which Turner Classic Movies shows Sunday, May 10) addresses many themes that remain relevant more than three decades later … relationship commitment, professional vs. personal life, the entrepreneurial spirit, and responsibility to oneself as well as others. And in this case, the main “other” is an adorable infant named Elizabeth.
Workaholic businesswoman J.C. Wiatt (Keaton) is shocked to become the immediate — as in, “handed off during an airport layover” — guardian of the child, a relative who’s just been orphaned. Able to handle everything previously, including her at-arm’s-distance live-in boyfriend (Harold Ramis), J.C. is certain she can balance her very active career with surrogate motherhood.
However, her boss (Sam Wanamaker) warns her, “You can’t have it all.” And much sooner than later, he’s proven right, with J.C. caught up in moments such as having a restaurant hostess try to mind Elizabeth during a business meeting … and eventually, J.C. is maneuvered out of the firm she served so totally and forced to reinvent herself.
She does that successfully, though it takes a while, by moving out of fast-paced New York to relaxed and scenic Vermont — where she gets inspiration from her newly inherited child to develop a baby-food brand that she labels Country Baby. Applying her savvy to marketing it eventually makes it a hit, catching the attention of her former employers, who want to broker a deal to buy it for a very tidy sum.
But will J.C. bite? What ultimately happens shows how well Keaton fares in developing the character’s full arc, thanks also to then-married screenwriters Charles Shyer (the movie’s director as well) and Nancy Meyers. This can be deemed the springboard for the female-empowerment comedies Meyers would write and direct later, including “Something’s Gotta Give” (for which Keaton also was her muse), “The Holiday” and “It’s Complicated.”
Apart from the messages “Baby Boom” folds in, there’s a sweet romance pairing Keaton with a low-key and appealing Sam Shepard as a Vermont doctor she tries to resist. Of course, that lasts only so long, and the two performers are wonderful together. Add smaller but memorable turns by Pat Hingle as a business mogul and James Spader as Keaton’s weasel of a co-worker, and the casting obviously is strong overall. (Also commendable: the music score by Bill Conti.)
In the end, though, it’s Keaton who makes or breaks “Baby Boom.” And, as proven by the fact that the picture remains just as enjoyable after 33 years, she surely makes it.