"Er, I say, uh, hmmm, however did I…oh, how can I put this—ah, end up in this pile of whippet shit?"

 

 

Morning Sickness

Nine Months induces some
hard labor to get through.

by Coury Turczyn

 

In a just world, Chris Columbus would be sentenced to the Ludovico Technique for Misguided Comedy Directors. He’d be strapped to a chair, his eyes held wide open, and be forced to watch every scrap of film ever made by the Three Stooges. Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute: eye gouging, stomach punching, hand biting, head bashing … until, perhaps, the man who made the Home Alone series would be so sickened by witless slapstick that he’d never make another movie.

If only he had received such treatment before concocting his latest wonder of physical guffaws, Nine Months. Alas, it is too late. Although he had the raw material for a mature (Dare I say sophisticated?) comedy, Mr. Columbus simply couldn’t resist applying his lucrative brick-to-the-head brand of humor, rendering Nine Months just another brainless sit-com for the five-year-old in all of us.

Things start well enough. Hugh Grant plays a dithering, self-centered Yuppie smugly satisfied with his life. He’s got a fabulous girlfriend (Julianne Moore), he’s got an amazing San Francisco apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, he’s got a high-income practice as a child psychologist and, of course, he’s got that ever-present symbol of shallow excess, a Porsche 911 convertible. A giant monkey-wrench is thrown into the works, however, when Moore announces she’s pregnant and wants to have the baby.

Grant shrinks in horror, contemplating the changes this will cause in his perfect life, and generally acts like a weasel. He hems, he haws, he dodges and whines. He all but accuses her of setting him up. All this is doubly refreshing in light of the fact that, as recent events have revealed, Hugh Grant is a weasel. Unlike his sweetly engaging screen image, he is perfectly capable of being a superficial pig.

Of course, as Nine Months’ theme reveals itself–that having a baby will make you a whole person–Grant’s character rights himself and magically becomes a super-dad: sensitive, caring, responsible and optimistic for the future. But I couldn’t help but yearn for more of Grant’s evil twin. His stuttering, smiling, eyebrow-arching act is starting to wear awfully thin. If he’d only permit some of his actual "dark side" into his roles, he’d be a much more interesting actor, instead of simply replaying the stammering Brit charmer he’s molded himself into. Instead, Nine Months offers us the grand panoply of Grant’s wacky cartoon facial expressions (Surprise! Fear! Chagrin!) as he Learns His Lesson Well.

To give Columbus credit, before he reaches his inescapable lecture on the joys of parenthood, he does at least temper Nine Months with a little dissension. Jeff Goldblum plays a swinging bachelor friend who defends his personal freedom and actually mentions overpopulation (though by the end he, too, is a convert, sobbing about being alone the day he dies). On the opposite end, Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack play a couple happily enraptured by the joys of having children–so much so that they’re single-minded goons (though by the end, they’re seen as being naturally wise and giving).

Columbus even conjures some genuinely funny moments. Many of his observations of the dilemmas faced by expectant couples seem on-target. (Sex during pregnancy or no?) And his spearing of that easy target Barney is efficiently done, with Arnold and Grant double-teaming a rude, marketing-obsessed "Arney" with vicious blows from a plastic bat.

But then the ending comes, and along with it that Chris Columbus brand of slapstick genius, entirely ruining what was an inoffensively mediocre film.

As Grant drives his soon-to-pop wife (they’ve gotten married, of course) to the hospital, madly careening down San Francisco streets, he: Almost kills an elderly couple! (HAW!) But only manages to induce a heart attack in the old geezer! (HEE HAW!) Then he smashes into a bicyclist–fracturing his leg! (YAW HAW HAW!) At the hospital, he sends his pain-wracked wife sailing down a hallway in a runaway wheelchair! (HEE!) And in the operating room, he gets into a fistfight with Tom Arnold as their cussing wives give birth, crashing into all the equipment! (HO HA!)

This isn’t slapstick even in the classic sense. This is utterly witless, infantile and pointless. It has no sense of timing, style or innovation. It’s just cracking skulls for cheap laughs–and the audience I was with roared with appreciation.

Columbus follows up this cartoon violence with manipulative schmaltz that's equally false: back home, late at night, the young father clutches his newborn babe to his chest, swaying to soul music to calm the child’s crying as his adoring wife looks on with a beatific gaze.

Yes, life can be just so perfect once you acquiesce to the strictures of biology–and to sit-com plotting.

 

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