Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Babymakers and Hope Springs, two romantic comedies about marriages struggling with sexual inadequacy.
PremiseThe Babymakers follows a young couple struggling to have a child, who discover upon visiting the doctor that husband Tommy (Paul Schneider) has low sperm count—or at least, his sperm “look drunk,” which explains why nine months of effort haven’t yielded a positive pregnancy test. He remembers that he once sold sperm to buy his wedding ring (calling O. Henry), but a trip to the sperm bank confirms that his donation has recently been sold. The movie then morphs into a comic action film wherein he tries to reclaim his sperm to impregnate his wife, Audrey (Olivia Munn). Hope Springs tells the story of a couple that has been married 31 years and has become sexually disengaged. After spotting a book on open marriages at the bookstore, Kay (Meryl Streep), decides she and her husband (Tommy Lee Jones) ought to see a love counselor (Steve Carell), who takes them on a step-by-step journey intended to rekindle their lukewarm romance. Neither premise may seem particularly novel, but we’re interested in the promising genre-meshing The Babymakers offers.Advantage: The Babymakers
Couple DynamicsOlivia Munn and Paul Schneider may not yet be household names, but they’ve each had their fair share of appearances on the big screen (Munn currently gracing the big screen in Magic Mike and previously in Iron Man 2, Schneider in Water for Elephants and Lars and the Real Girl). Despite her history of being typecast as one sex kitten after another, Munn seems to transition quite naturally into a more mature role—and is balanced well by Schneider’s sex-driven character. Meanwhile, Meryl Streep may not be stretching too far in Hope Springs—her role in the film seems to be about halfway between what she played in Mamma Mia! and The Family Stone—but hey, Meryl’s Meryl. While the part may be unusually light for her, it pairs perfectly with Tommy Lee Jones’ dry personality to create the classic aging-couple dynamic. The incredible awkwardness of the scenes on the therapist’s couch, balanced with the lighthearted dinner scenes, look spot-on.Advantage: Hope Springs
DirectionThe Babymakers’ director Jay Chandrasekhar hasn’t made a movie for the big screen since 2006, when he directed Beerfest, but he’s probably better known for directing The Dukes of Hazzard a year before that. In the meantime, he’s worked on a number of TV shows, ranging from Community to Chuck to Arrested Development. If his frat-boy approach to moviemaking continues with to The Babymakers, it may offer some comedy for Schneider’s character, but it’s probably not a huge endorsement for the movie. Hope Springs’ director David Frankel, on the other hand, has had a pretty successful run with films such as Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada, not to mention that he has an Oscar under his belt for a short live-action film he directed and wrote in 1996 (Dear Diary). Marley & Me may not have been a huge critical success, but it at least proves Frankel’s ability to make a moderately successful romantic comedy.Advantage: Hope Springs
QuirkinessThe Babymakers emphasizes Paul Schneider’s knack for comic delivery to mock the movie’s own genre, and the screenwriters give him every possible opportunity to explore the ridiculousness of robbing a sperm bank. The unique scenario gives Schneider and Munn a good chance to explore some new territory with the script, and the R rating means—we’re hoping—that the screenwriters didn’t hold back. Hope Springs also has its fair share of quirks, from the couple treating each other to extended cable for their 31st anniversary to Streep’s character buying Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man. Steve Carell as a therapist is a casting choice brimming with potential, too. But ultimately, though Hope Springs is budding with one-liners, The Babymakers’ plot gives it the chance to play off its own oddities.Advantage: The Babymakers
Supporting CastThe Babymakers has itself spread pretty thin with a pretty large supporting cast of lesser-known stars, like Miles Fisher (who impersonated Tom Cruise in 2008’s Superhero Movie) and Helena Mattson (who played minor roles in Surrogates and Iron Man 2). Just looking at the trailer, it’s hard to find a familiar face or see any hint of a breakout performance. Quality beats quantity here, and although the trailer may not show him being used to his full comic potential, Hope Springs‘ Steve Carell still wins the category. Advantage: Hope Springs
VerdictWhile The Babymakers has a lot of potential, with a fresh cast and novel premise, it just doesn’t have quite the kick to surpass the star power and charm of Hope Springs. With a strong dynamic between its two lead characters, proven direction, and a screenplay that looks set to entertain, we’re betting on Hope Springs. Winner: Hope Springs
For more Trailer Face-Offs, click here.