A shared load of working-mother stress and pressure, not everyone's notion of moviegoing fun. Director Nancy Savoca (True Love, Dogfight, Household Saints) makes little personal movies about small-as-life people, mainly women, in small-as-life predicaments, almost as if she were operating in the field of the serious novel rather than the commercial cinema. She stands to lose, or to alienate, a portion of her potential audience here by installing her heroine in the glamour job of a TV producer on a popular peppy A.M. talk show, and mating her to the show's hunky co-host, who enjoys a flourishing sideline as a supporting player in megabudget Hollywood action films. Surely the combined, or even separate, incomes of these jobs would open up some child-care options unavailable to the average working mom. Still, Savoca demonstrates herself to be a bigger human being than most of us in her willingness and ability to treat talk-show people as people (though we never get to meet the maniacally mugging Kathie Lee Gifford-ish distaff host off-camera), and the show's format of Hot Topics Served Daily certainly carves out plenty of short cuts to parenting issues ("I swear I understand child abuse now! I can just picture myself throwing her out the fucking window!"). It is always difficult on screen to orchestrate tiny everyday irritants into weighty crescendos that seem neither forced and artificial nor trifling and underwhelming, and Savoca pulls off something of a minor miracle with the sustained pileup of complications on Baby's First Birthday, capped off when Mom trails in at party's end, after detours to a celebrity book signing, a toy store, and the police station, to watch the festivities forlornly on home video. The eventual climax, which feels like someone else's idea of a climax (Goldie Hawn's, Bette Midler's, someone's), with the stressed-out mother waving and firing a handgun at her husband on live television, is an altogether lower order of comedy. And not funny. Rosie Perez, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Patti LuPone, Diego Serrano. (1999) — Duncan Shepherd
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