The other night I had a rare treat – dinner and a movie with my two teenage daughters. Since they are more than four years apart, and the 17-year-old’s non-stop social engagements materialize as spontaneously as text messages, we don’t all get together much. I’ve recently instated a policy for myself — if she ever wants to do anything with me I drop everything and say, “Yes!”
Dinner on the patio of a new Cuban place was a joyous affair. (For me, anyway. It’s never easy to know what teenagers think, but they laughed — a good sign.) We then went to see the chick flick Eat, Pray, Love.
I had a problem with the previews. The first two — The Little Fockers and How Do You Know — had erectile dysfunction themes, a tad embarrassing to share with my 13-year-old who just started attending PG-13 movies. I must have murmured “great” or “lovely” as each trailer ended, because big sister muttered her annoyance. “We don’t need to hear what you think every time.” Later that evening I felt it my duty to explain Viagra to the younger one. Chuckling at my naiveté, she exclaimed, “Do you think I don’t get spam?” and then confessed, “I thought it was funny!”
It was the third trailer that put me over the edge. Life As We Know It stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as a couple who hate each other but are thrown together because their friends die and name them the guardians of their adorable baby Sophie. If this romantic comedy cliché weren’t appalling enough, the majority of the jokes seemed to be at the baby’s expense, including the one that really jarred me: the baby is supposedly walking for the first time, and the guardian “dad” knocks her down, pushes her on purpose for one of the movie’s big, slapstick laughs.
Of course, I’m wondering and hoping they found a teeny tiny stunt double, but even if they did — this is funny? Would we laugh if someone pushed a dog down? (My hunch is no. In fact, there might even be an emotional — and organized — public outcry.) And what are parents thinking when they allow their babies to participate in this stuff? What about the lesser evils, like the baby being handled by strangers, actors who are pretending to be clueless and carry her like a slab of meat?
When I was acting I sometimes did commercials with babies. I admit I didn’t respect babies the way I do now. Becoming a mother and meeting infant expert Magda Gerber opened my eyes to a new view of infants as full-fledged people. But even then I knew there was something wrong with a mom telling me to stuff M&M’s into her 10-month-old baby’s mouth so that she would cooperate in my arms as we ran through fake rain.
Commercials are very competitive for babies because two or more are hired for one role. They all get paid a minimal day rate, but only the baby who appears in the actual commercial gets the big bucks – the residuals. Parents are motivated to make their baby the one that behaves for the camera. It can bring out the worst in a stage mom.
Another commercial I did (for Kleenex) required me to cuddle a sleeping baby in my arms. Those five seconds of commercial time took hours to shoot. There were three babies hired, and the parents were working their tails off to get the babies to sleep. Then, the baby would be tucked into my arms on set in the dark. The director called for the lights. Within moments the room was brighter than Christmas, and the baby would wake up and WAIL! (Where was he? And who the heck was I?)
I don’t even remember how many tries it took get a baby knocked out enough to finally make this shot work. And I wonder, knowing what I know now, could I ever do those things to babies?