In the ranks of contemporary vulgar-equals-funny comedies, The Babymakers is probably less foul-mouthed and certainly less laugh-inducing than most, but questions of comedic merit aside, Jay Chandrasekhar’s movie unfolds as a silly, juvenile gloss on notions of manhood. Actually, it doesn’t have much to say about masculinity except that only dudes that can impregnate women can truly be men. In the film’s world, to fire blanks is to forfeit your status to manhood.
Fire blanks is all that hapless Tommy (Paul Schneider) can manage as he tries unsuccessfully to knock up his wife, Audrey (Olivia Munn), subjecting himself to both the increasing impatience of his spouse and the ridicule of his shit-talking pals. After being told by a doctor that he has a low sperm count (a fate worse than death, apparently) and being threatened with such humiliating procedures as a scrotal exploration, a desperate Tommy hatches a plan to steal the remaining sperm he deposited years ago at a local sperm bank when he presumably was still in possession of his virility. It’s all pretty “outrageous,” from an early 10-minute sequence which consists solely of Tommy trying mostly unsuccessfully to jerk off, to the sperm-bank break-in during which one of the guy’s pals knocks over a shelf of semen and then unwittingly rolls around in the resultant pool of jizz.
As the film shifts from domestic comedy to not-so-rollicking caper, the laugh quotient remains consistently low, but there’s more at stake here than simple yuks, namely Tommy’s assertion of his manly prowess. Yes, this is a comedy, so we’re supposed to view the character’s antics with a certain detachment and sense of the ridiculous, but this is a film that’s heavily invested in the equation of manhood with virility. In the end, Audrey may tell her husband, quite perfunctorily, that she doesn’t care about his ability to impregnate her, but this is after everything’s been satisfactorily resolved. Her damning words with which she had earlier condemned him are more to the film’s point: “You’re not man enough to knock me up anyway.”
The reason the film is able to get away with such antiquated notions is because it’s not about simple male conquest, but is contextualized in the framework of a monogamous heterosexual marriage. Rather than simply getting his rocks off, Tommy finds his manhood dependent on the more acceptable notion of the nuclear family trying, in this case desperately, to reproduce itself. In a way, this flips the script on such near-contemporary cinematic moments as when Jennifer Lopez laments her barrenness in What to Expect When You’re Expecting as a failure of her chief role as a woman, but to shift the blame to the man hardly takes us out of the framework of reproductive essentialism. Ultimately, The Babymakers is a safe, laugh-free exercise that gets to have its fun, such as it is, because it’s all in the service of the most conservative notions of domestic normality.