Should I Watch..? '3 Men and a Baby'
What's the big deal?
3 Men And A Baby is a comedy film released in 1987 and was directed by Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy. Based on the French film Trois hommes et un couffin (Three Men And A Cradle), the film sees a trio of male batchelors having their lives turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of a baby girl on their doorstep. The film stars Steve Guttenberg, Tom Selleck and Ted Danson. The film received a warm reception from critics while audiences fell in love with the film, making it the most successful picture of the year after global takings in excess of $297 million. It's also the most successful American remake of a French film in history. The film was followed by a sequel in 1990 called Three Men And A Little Lady.
What's it about?
Cartoonist Michael, architect Peter and actor Jack all live in a New York penthouse apartment, living the bachelor lifestyle of endless parties and failed romances. With Jack in Turkey shooting a B movie, Peter and Michael are disturbed one day by a knock on their door. To their surprise, they are greeted by a baby girl called Mary and a note from a woman called Sylvia who claims that Jack is the father. Having informed them before Jack's departure that a director friend of his will collect a package, the pair of them assume that Mary is the package and take her in.
Unfortunately, neither Peter or Michael have any idea how to care for a baby and neither does Jack who returns early from Turkey. Remembering his brief romance with Sylvia, Jack quickly finds himself overwhelmed after Peter and Michael eschew their responsibilities and pass Mary over to him. As the three of them squabble among themselves as well as hopelessly falling for little Mary, their lives are put into danger by associates of Jack's friend who are violently looking for imported drugs...
Michelle & Lisa Blair
James Orr & Jim Cruickshank*
Release Date (UK)
8th April, 1988
Comedy, Drama, Family
What's to like?
It's not the most original or ground-breaking film ever devised but 3 Men And A Baby works hard to get the most out of its one-joke premise. In fact, the film almost entirely relies on the performances of its three leading men who have great chemistry and comic timing as well as enough charm to float a super-tanker. Selleck is probably the best of the three, displaying enough comic potential that hadn't really been seen up to that point in his career. But both Danson and Guttenberg provide more than enough support - actually, there are two other cast members who deserve a mention. It's doubtful that Michelle or Lisa Blair were aware of what exactly was going on but they gurgle and smile on cue and let's be honest, any baby is going to be worth watching, right?
The film may only have one real joke - single men not knowing anything about parental responsibility - so the formula gets thin pretty quickly. So the film throws up an element of danger in the form of drug smugglers which feels somewhat incongruous to the affable nature of the three leads, none of whom feels like they would be mixed up in heroin dealing. It felt unnecessary as I was enjoying watching the Blair sisters crawl, cry and wriggle their way into our hearts. I just wanted more from the picture but I didn't get it.
- There is an urban legend about a ghost apparently visible behind curtains at the apartment during one scene, supposedly the spirit of a young boy who committed suicide in the apartment. Not only was the scene not shot in an apartment (it was filmed in a studio set) but another angle in a different scene on the same set clearly shows it to be a life-size cardboard cut-out of Danson's character in a tuxedo.
- As filming progressed, the babies playing Mary became less interested in the actors and more interested in the microphones. Nimoy had to figure out a way of disguising the microphones so the scene wouldn't be interrupted.
- This was Nimoy's first non-Star Trek film as a director as well as his first film for a studio other than Paramount. Before Disney CEO Michael Eisner left his former position as CEO of Paramount, one of his last acts was to grant Nimoy permission to direct Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.
What's not to like?
The problem with one-gag films like this is that ultimately, there is only so much mileage you can get from the premise. And sadly, 3 Men And A Baby ends up outstaying its welcome by flip-flopping between family comedy and dense drama and ending up being neither. Once the whole fish-out-of-water antics run dry, the film slowly down horribly and spends the rest of its duration spinning its wheels like a car that's flipped over after a high-impact crash. Not even the introduction of Mary's mother changes things that drastically as it all does is underscore what is painfully obvious - that the three men enjoy having Mary around despite endless nappy changes and dealing with 'doodies'.
Perhaps I'm being harsh on the film because it was a hugely popular film at the time. But today, it seems very old-fashioned and out-of-touch. Stay-at-home fathers and single-parent households aren't as uncommon now as they were back then so the situation feels less ripe for comic pruning. You won't see the likes of this again (or at least, you shouldn't) because this film feels as contemporary and cutting edge as an episode of My Two Dads. The comedy falls flat after a while and the film becomes less involving the longer it goes on.
Should I watch it?
It will put you on one heck of a nostalgia trip but 3 Men And A Baby isn't worth watching these days if you're new to it. Of course it's fun watching the havoc a new-born baby can cause and the three leads provide plenty of banter and good humour to keep the film going. But ultimately, it runs out of steam and flops over the finishing line exhausted and utterly bereft of energy. There isn't enough here to sustain the film past 90 minutes, let alone provide enough material for the sequel.
Great For: Coline Serreau's bank account, nostalgic Eighties nights, anyone who doesn't remember Steve Guttenberg
Not So Great For: progressive film making, stay-at-home fathers, any hopes Nimoy might have had of escaping Spock
What else should I watch?
It may be surprising to discover that 3 Men And A Baby is the most successful Hollywood adaption of a French film in history, considering some of the other films that qualify. 12 Monkeys is a dark sci-fi thriller featuring Bruce Willis travelling back in time to prevent the apocalypse, True Lies is a hugely entertaining action blockbuster with Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to keep his job as a spy a secret from unsuspecting wife Jamie Lee Curtis and of course, everybody knows what Some Like It Hot is all about - one of Hollywood's greatest ever comedies featuring the incomparable Marilyn Monroe.
Of course, some French adaptations don't work quite as well as anyone unlucky enough to catch Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah in Taxi will testify. But it still doesn't stop Hollywood from the practise - recent release The Upside is a remake of the multiple award-winning The Intouchables while Denzel Washington recently popped up in the disappointing Sleepless, a remake of French thriller Sleepless Night. My advice is generally to seek out the original in whatever language it comes in - subtitles are better than dubbing (and don't distract from the actors performance either) and still allow you to follow the story. Don't be afraid of foreign films!
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox