You’re not watching many movies now—not in their entirety, anyway. You have a baby to take care of. Has anyone else ever undergone this bizarre, exhausting, cosmic experience? Not with this baby, right? Few of the movies below deal authentically with the pressures of new parenthood—how could they do it justice?—preferring instead to either squeeze comic juice out of the scenario (which is always funnier to watch than it is to endure), or push your newly sensitive baby-love buttons.
A devilishly rich character comedy about how being a new parent compels one to explore one’s own roots, David O. Russell’s high-concept rip Flirting with Disaster is packed with unpredictable rhythms, dead-perfect line readings, and hilarious peripheral characters. New dad/adopted schlemiel Ben Stiller wants to find out who his biological parents are; a cross-country journey ensues, in which viewers are treated to frustrated wife Patricia Arquette, chain-smoking social worker Téa Leoni, gay cop couples, a raft of mistaken identities, inadvertent LSD consumption, armpit sex, and the meddlesome hell of Jewish parents Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal. The baby is somewhat secondary to the mind frames of the neurotic father, but the states of parenthood and familial belonging have never been so hilariously besieged. One viewing won’t cut it.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s second film, and a wild-eyed, Rube Goldberg riot, as Southern-fool marrieds Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter, unable to have babies of their own (“Her insides were a rocky place,” Cage’s dopey felon bemoans in an unforgettable narration, “where my seed could find no purchase.”), kidnap one from a set of quintuplets. From there, Raising Arizona is a veritable Road Runner cartoon revolving around the infant’s essentially irresistible baby-ness, and there are enough character-rich hee-haws for ten movies. The urgent matter of getting your hands on some Huggies in the worst of circumstances was never made so thrilling.
The template for the “bachelors find themselves raising an infant” comedies of later years, this John Ford western is actually pretty emotional and defiant of expectations, what with John Wayne as a self-pitying leader of a band of bank robbers (which also includes Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey Jr.), the last act’s desert walk of death, and Ward Bond’s humane lawman. Made a decade after Stella Dallas, that ode to maternal martyrdom, this might well be the first American film that’s centered on the paternal sacrifice for the future of a gurgling newborn. Ignore the canned New Testament parallels and invocations if you can