Pregnancy: Boom for Box Office, Boon for Starlets

Lindsay Lohan's the latest actress to jump on the baby movie bandwagon.


May 14, 2008 — -- It used to be that a film starring a painfully pregnant women was one of the more unpleasant parts of sixth grade health class, not something to be enjoyed with a bucket of popcorn and Milk Duds.

Not anymore.

Movies spoofing pregnancy, fertility and abortion are bigger than ever in Hollywood, proving to be a boon both for the industry and the actresses who star in them.

"Baby Mama," Tina Fey's flick about the seemingly unsexy subject of surrogate moms, scored the No. 1 spot at the box office when it opened last month.

"Juno," last year's critical darling about teen pregnancy, was the surprise hit of the Oscar season, garnering a best actress nomination for Ellen Page and a statue for stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody.

And "Knocked Up," Judd Apatow's comical look at a one-night-stand gone wrong, was one of last summer's most buzzed about blockbusters, raking in $31 million in its opening weekend and transforming "Grey's Anatomy's" Katherine Heigl into a bonafide movie star.

"Ellen Page came out of nowhere, and now she's the industry's 'It Girl.' Katherine Heigl proved her big screen mettle, that she's not just a TV actress," said Us magazine's Bradley Jacobs.

Now, Lindsay Lohan, the No. 1 starlet desperately in need of a comeback, has signed on to star in "Labor Pains," a comedy about a young woman who pretends to be pregnant to avoid getting fired.

"I think it's a much better decision on Lindsay Lohan's part to pick this role as opposed to playing a member of Charles Manson's entourage or stripping for a horror movie," said Jacobs, referring to Lohan's now-defunct part in "Manson Girls" and her starring role in 2007's less-than-stellar slasher flick "I Know Who Killed Me."

The latest delivery of pregnancy movies all have one thing in common: They're comedies. The humorous take on a subject matter that engages a key group of consumers has helped all of the recent entries rake in box office revenues.

"These movies have a very strong appeal to women," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office analysis firm Media by Numbers. "They make a lot of decisions about what movies are going to be seen, and when they get behind a movie, as we'll see with the 'Sex and the City' movie, they really boost the box office. That's a big part of why they've been so successful.

"A lot of them have to do with nontraditional types of pregnancy: Having a surrogate -- 'Baby Mama'; having a one night stand -- 'Knocked Up'; having a teenage pregnancy -- 'Juno' ... None of these are 'mom and dad plan to get pregnant.' It wouldn't be as interesting," Dergarabedian said.

Of course, a fair amount of women flocking to these flicks drag male companions along with them. And what better sign that society has become OK with the gory details of pregnancy than the fact that the sight of a big-bellied woman in stirrups can make guys laugh rather than flee the theater screaming?

"The notion that you can broach varieties in family arrangements and tallk about every stage of family formation, without being worried about towing a particular political or social line, is growing, and that's showing up in movies that are not super serious but are sociologically revealing," said Ann Hulbert, author of "Raising America:Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children." "Certainly fertility, which was a topic that people didn't discuss very openly 20 years ago, is now a subject that's out there for people to compare experiences."

But while unconventional families and fertility are fair game, mainstream movies still shy away from in-depth discussion of abortion (not so in independent and foreign films -- Romania's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" won the top prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival).

"Knocked Up" didn't even utter the word (it was referred to in euphemism -- "rhymes with 'shmashmortion"). "Juno" allowed Page's character into the Planned Parenthood clinic but had her running out minutes later, freaked out and resolved to keep her baby.

"I still think abortion, even in the medical world, is a quieter subject," said pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson. "When I talk to young parents with newborns, they're very quick to tell me their fertility history, but they're not nearly as vocal about their abortion history ... maybe because it's not relevant, but maybe also because there are social taboos."

While Hollywood has opened up to exploring the nuances and nitty-gritty of new-motherhood since the days of "Junior," the 1994 flop that saw Arnold Schwarzenegger turn from terminator into baby incubator, Natterson said there's still too much space between the big screen and reality when it comes to the portrayal of sex and its outcomes.

"The one place that kids are left uneducated is the emotional intensity of sex and sexually charged relationships early in life. It's still glorified, it's still romanticized, and it's such a big piece that's missing in the conversation with kids about why you should wait to have sex," Natterson added. "I'd love to see that addressed, in some way, by the film industry."

Just a guess, but a Lindsay Lohan movie is probably not where that discussion will take place.

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