The Boss Baby (2017)

Like any film worth its salt, Dreamworks’s The Boss Baby does at least one good thing right– keep things ambiguous.

The premise of the film is as follows: Tim, an imaginable young man, has his world changed when his parents bring home his baby brother. Tim, who’s used to having a monopoly on the attention and love of the family, doesn’t take kindly to this newcomer, of whom only he is able to see that he wears a suit, can talk and is clearly bossing around the family for some nefarious reason. Fast forward through “Baby Corp.”, of which I won’t bother explaining, and through a grade-B level plot material concerning immortal puppies, fully-grown babies, and the allocation of love, and you have a fairly common film specifically made for families.

What I enjoyed about this film, though, wasn’t the narrative or even the story or characterization since all of that was fine. No. What I thought more impressive was the ambiguity. Right from the start of the film, we know that Tim has an imagination, so we know right away that whether or not Tim’s baby brother is actually sentient (“fully grown”) is up for debate; Tim, after all, is the only person who sees and hears what his baby brother actually is supposedly like.

Later in the film, at the end, and spoiler alert, we then see that the narration throughout was actually an older Tim telling his young daughter a fictionalized account of Tim becoming used to the idea of having a baby brother when he was little. Now, as an adult, we see Tim’s brother in a business suit and congratulating Tim on the coming of his new baby daughter.

What this means is that Time drew on his experiences as an adult to tell a fantastical coming-of-age story to his daughter to help her come to terms with having a little sister. Though the film tries to set-up a deflecting shot by having Tim’s young daughter see her sister in a suit– identifying her as a Baby Corp. agent– we know that she, like her father, likely as an imagination herself and just being told a story of great proportions, her mind is clearly very susceptible. So, we as the audience are able to understand that the possibility of Baby Corp. existing is practically zero.

Still, there is room for debate and the fact that there is room is what I found most endearing about this film. That despite its shortcomings, of which I will discuss shortly, the narrative balanced a framing story with the external narrative into a cohesive whole which melded well with the premise. On a narratological level, The Boss Baby is a triumph since it operates like a finely tuned machine; you will find no mishaps here, just a text ripe for analysis.

Unfortunately, I found a few areas that I couldn’t care less for.

So, I will skip my indignant rant about the heteronormativity of the film because this is something common to the vast majority of texts produced under late capitalism. No, what I want to talk about instead is the egregious queerphobia splashed around in the movie.

Right off the bat, in the start of the film, we see a conveyor belt of babies on an assembly line. They are mechanically being fed pacifiers. All of the babies are on their backs and so the pacifiers are inserted into their mouths. Protagonist baby, meanwhile, got tossed about and is lying on his stomach which means– uh oh– the pacifier is going to get inserted into his anus if he doesn’t correct his posture! Haha.. nothing more funny and dangerous than things being inserted into a young boy’s butt!

Then, a bit later in the film, the brothers are babysat by a corporate underling, some lesser family member to the antagonist. To pass off the charade of a corporate babysitter, though, said babysitter must– wait for it– dress as a woman; get it, a manly woman, a man in drag– a man wearing woman’s clothes. Ha!

Oh, and there is some weird oral fixation throughout the film which makes me rather uncomfortable and is likewise played off for laughs despite its male-centered allusions to sexual discovery.

A part of me wants to play off these moments as having a bit of fun with psychanalytical theory. ‘Oh, they are just ribbing at Freud or Lacan!’ I want to say. But I can’t say that. Let’s be honest, that would be giving this film too much credit. The above instances of queerphobia are merely the result of lazy writing and of cisgender, heterosexual White Males– and that is the other thing I didn’t get into, that the film has this weird White Savorism complex– having no awareness of their privilege and oppressive position in the class system. It is yet another instance of boring old White Dudes™ thinking they are all that while ignoring how bland their dreck actually is. Easy enough to ignore? Yeah, but that’s not the point.

In the end, The Boss Baby is a delightful and heartwarming family film. Or, to be more critical, it is an overly sentimental and eye-rollingly heteronormative circle-jerk. Still, it gives you “the feels”, and isn’t that enough for a film you likely only downloaded/streamed/rented/bought to shut up your youngling for a bit?

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