What to expect when you’re LiLo
Television Review | ‘Labor Pains’
What to Expect When You’re Lying
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
The opening scene of “Labor Pains,” which will be shown on ABC Family on Sunday night, is meant to be a funny, disarming introduction to a Bridget Jonesian heroine. Instead it’s an unsettling reminder of Ms. Lohan’s luridly documented brushes with cocaine, rehab, car wrecks and tardiness on the set. The whole setup is distracting and embarrassing, like seeing Mel Gibson in the role of a drunken womanizer or Jennifer Aniston as a discarded wife: method casting.
And that’s a shame, because the movie’s premise — a secretary who feigns pregnancy to avoid being fired — isn’t terrible and neither is Ms. Lohan. Mostly because of how her part was written, it takes too long for Ms. Lohan to shed her Hollywood reputation and wan, stilted demeanor and get into the role. Once Thea begins to enjoy the perks of pregnancy — and starts believing her own lie — Ms. Lohan livens up.
The script doesn’t, however, and the marketing is, if anything, a little too lively.
ABC Family, perhaps seeking to make a virtue of a necessity, has marketed the movie with what looks like a wink and a nudge at Ms. Lohan’s sullied image. One sly ad describes the heroine of “Labor Pains” with the words, “All her career needs is a little bump.” (Many a blog has pointed out that bump is also slang for a hit of cocaine.)
“Labor Pains” was not made for television; it started out as a feature film, but the producers, for perhaps obvious reasons, had second thoughts and sloughed it off to cable and DVD. The rights were bought by ABC Family, part of the Walt Disney Company, which now owns the cable channel that was founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson. (The deal stipulated that ABC Family continue to carry Mr. Robertson’s talk show, “The 700 Club,” in perpetuity.)
It’s not a natural fit. ABC Family has loosened its collar a little — its roster now includes “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” about an unwed teenage mother, but “Labor Pains” has a far more unsavory feel and scatological dialogue better suited to a Seth Rogen movie. Thea also drinks, smokes and fails to live up to all sorts of responsibilities, and that’s not so cute in this context.
Ms. Lohan became famous as a Disney heroine in hits like “The Parent Trap” and “Freaky Friday,” but this is not a triumphant return of a prodigal child star. She too often looks tired and ill at ease in a role that calls for an engaging, charismatic performance.
Thea, who dropped out of college to rear her younger sister, Emma, after their parents died, is posited as a sympathetic screw-up, but mostly her mistakes are off-putting. She barely makes a living as a secretary to a bizarre, fastidious book publisher (Chris Parnell), who chides her for being even five minutes late and requires her to bathe his tiny dog. When things go bad at work, Thea goes drinking with her best friend and colleague, Lisa (Cheryl Hines of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). On one occasion they commiserate over cocktails so long that Thea forgets to attend her sister’s high school parent-teacher conference.
Once Thea leads her boss and co-workers to think she is pregnant, her life instantly improves; even her landlord is too nice to nag her about the late rent checks, and another executive at the company, Nick (Luke Kirby), decides she should edit a new line of pregnancy books and promotes her. When her deceit unravels and everything goes wrong, Thea has to set things right. “Labor Pains” is supposed to be a light, escapist romantic comedy, but, sadly, it never shakes free of the heavy baggage Ms. Lohan brings to the role.
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