April 12, 2010 / 5:33 AM / 9 years ago

Hollywood gripped by baby fever

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - That baby in the eTrade commercials is hysterical. Someone should make a movie out of him.

Hattie is one of four babies followed from birth to first steps in Thomas Balmes' documentary "Babies". REUTERS/Focus Feature/Handout

Well, that probably won’t happen. No matter, though, because there are plenty of other baby-themed movies gestating these days.

Delivering first is “The Back-Up Plan,” a Jennifer Lopez vehicle opening April 23, followed by the fittingly titled “Babies,” then “The Switch” and “Life as We Know It.”

Before the year ends, audiences will also get a look at Robert Downey Jr. playing an expectant dad trying to hitchhike his way home in time for the birth of his child in “Due Date” for Warner Bros. And, let’s not forget the latest “Meet the Parents” sequel that has the Fockers (Ben Stiller and Teri Polo) awaiting the birth of their child.

True enough that Hollywood has never ignored babies — Disney Channel just launched “Good Luck Charlie,” the title character being a newborn, and “Juno” and “Knocked Up” are recent enough hits — but the sudden quantity of baby films suggests something else might be at play.

For those searching for a theory, here’s a recurring theme: America is mired in recession and war, and unemployment is at stress-inducing levels, so audiences are in need of some comfort and Hollywood is eager to oblige.

And what’s more comforting than cuddly babies?

“During hard times, family becomes even more important,” said “Life as We Know It” executive producer Denise Di Novi. “It’s been proven. Parents spend more time with their children — it’s that nesting instinct.”

If the above list isn’t enough to prove a Hollywood baby trend, there also are rumors that a remake of “Look Who’s Talking” is in development, though the man allegedly behind the project, Neal Moritz, wouldn’t confirm or deny the reports.

Additionally, while Fox says that published reports claiming it’s working on a film based on that eTrade baby are wrong, it is developing some sort of “baby adventure” film that might include talking infants, vp communications Gregg Brilliant said.

“Family is just about the only constant in America nowadays, and when you’ve got babies, you’ve got family,” said Todd Black, producer of CBS’ Films’ “Back-Up Plan.”

Both “Back-Up Plan” and “The Switch” involve unorthodox pregnancies. “Switch,” starring Jennifer Aniston, used to be called “The Baster,” a reference to a turkey baster and a key plot device.

In “Back-Up Plan,” Lopez stars as unlucky-in-love Zoe who, desperate to be a mom, gets pregnant through artificial insemination — though without the assistance of a kitchen utensil.

“The day she’s inseminated, she meets Mr. Right,” Black said. “Now she has to find out if he stays or if he goes.”

Mr. Right is played by Alex O’Loughlin, and no surprise, he stays. Zoe eventually gives birth to twins, a nice touch, considering that Lopez and real-life husband Marc Anthony are parents of 2-year-old twins.

“The movie is super funny and super real,” Black said. “Relationships and babies come in different packages today.”

True enough. But for a decidedly more real dose of reality, check out “Babies,” opening May 7 from Focus Features.

A documentary without dialogue, the film is poignant, funny and sometimes disturbing as it explores infants being raised under vastly different circumstances in Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo.

“Babies” director Thomas Balmes has heard the theory that political and financial upheaval has encouraged a return to basics among filmmakers, but he isn’t much into psychoanalyzing moviegoers.

“I don’t want to do the work for the audience,” he said. “I don’t want to tell them what to get out of the movie.”

Those who have seen “Babies” primarily react to its “cuteness,” Balmes said, “which is exactly what I tried to avoid because there’s a lot of violence between the cuteness.”

The drama in “Babies” comes from comparing Third World child-rearing to Western techniques.

The San Francisco parents, for example, might appear like a parody of progressive parenting, complete with an at-home birth and a vegetarian diet for their baby daughter. Naturally the parents are environmentalists who drive a biodiesel-powered car and sing songs praising Mother Earth.

That’s a stark contrast to the primitive and sometimes dangerous conditions in Namibia or Mongolia, where challenges are far more immediate, like finding drinkable water or even bathwater that your infant won’t have to share with thirsty wildlife.

“All the parents are doing totally different things, with totally different tools, to make sure their children are growing up in the best way possible,” Balmes said.

One fan of “Babies,” based on the clips he has seen, is new dad Barry Josephson.

“My heart is so open, having just had a daughter with my wife, Brooke,” he said. “I just went nuts. I can’t wait to see it.”

Josephson is producing “Life as We Know It” for Warner Bros, set for release in October. It’s is a romantic comedy like “Back-Up Plan,” but the baby plays a bigger role because the film chronicles a year of her life.

The movie stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a couple of childless singles who are chosen by their best friends to be guardians to their baby girl. They’re thrust into parenthood when their friends are killed.

“He’s the last guy on Earth you’d want raising your kid,” Josephson said. “It’s poetic that he becomes a great dad.”

The theme, he said, is that it’s “a challenge to raise kids even when you’re prepared for it — imagine how difficult it is when you’re not.”

Cast as the baby are triplets, each with a different disposition, “which made our jobs easier,” Josephson said. “When we needed the baby to be cranky, we’d use one of them, and when we needed her to be happy, we’d use a different one.”

Josephson has been wanting to make “Life as We Know It” for seven years. It was Heigl’s commitment that moved the project forward, coincidentally at a time when babies are hot in Hollywood again.

“We didn’t go down this path to satisfy a golden rule about when baby movies work,” Josephson said. “A baby movie can be very satisfying, but you still have to make a good one, and I think we have.”

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