July 16, 2009 / 4:00 AM / 10 years ago

"Labor Pains" pays off thanks to Lohan, Hines

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Disney — and by extension ABC Family — is Lindsay Lohan’s spiritual home. Sure, she might have earned her celebrity success outside the Mouse bosom, but lately her most widely seen appearances have been courtesy of “Access Hollywood.” So perhaps it’s appropriate that the one-time child star of “The Parent Trap” returns to her home base with “Labor Pains.”

Glad that she did: “Pains” succeeds because of Lohan. As Thea, a publishing-house secretary living on the financial brink who rashly lies that she’s pregnant just before her boss fires her, Lohan is a bright light in the center of an otherwise fair-to-middling telefilm (once destined for theatrical release). She’s paired with the delightfully sardonic Cheryl Hines, and the two provide a chemical camaraderie that lifts the script from its “Three’s Company” premise.

Now, “Labor” was never going to be a neorealistic treatise on society’s emphasis on breeding. We are in Disneyland, folks, the place where Thea can get away with stuffing her belly for months (even the younger sister she’s raising is unaware). But what was a single-episode subplot on ABC’s briefly lived “In the Motherhood” (also featuring Hines) doesn’t stretch well. As Thea’s colleagues get into the prospect of her single parenthood — baking brownies, knitting booties, offering marriage — a slightly demented lark turns ugly.

When Thea starts buying into the delusion, the script enters a weird area: Is this a comedy or a look at someone whose cheese has slipped off her cracker?

To her credit, Lohan plays it all straight-faced, firm-jawed; we believe that she believes she’s pregnant. But the dissonance between the story’s start, where it goes and where it ends (wrapped in a nice, Disney-esque bow) is bewildering. Perhaps the writers did begin with a treatise on breeding that made a gradual descent into darker depths rather than a trip into the abyss. But when Disneyland comes calling, you have to enter the land of make believe.

So pretend this is a true comedy. Enjoy the inappropriate reveals, the casual violence toward animals, the misogyny-as-humor and the poo jokes. As Billy Joel once said, It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing. But sometimes a fantasy is all you need.

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