Sunday, August 13, 2017

BABY STEPS indeed: Barney Cheng's GLBT embarrassment opens on VOD and digital

It has been a long while since TrustMovies has encountered a film, the heart and mind of which is trying so hard to be in the "right place," even as every step it takes becomes utterly cringe-inducing. Manipulative, manufactured, and messy as all get-out, BABY STEPS is about the "making" of a much-wanted (for apparently all the wrong reasons) baby desired by only one-half of a gay couple. As written, directed and starring a fellow named Barney Cheng, the movie takes the term "vanity production" to new heights (or in this case, lows).

Mr. Cheng, shown above, below and at left (it was very difficult to find a publicity still that did not include him), plays Danny, a Taiwanese man who's gay but sort of halfway closeted (his mom knows but they don't talk about this). Mom is played by an actress, Grace Guei, below, said to be the "Asian Meryl Streep." Not to worry, Meryl; you'll find little competition here, at least as provided by this particularly graceless Cheng/Guei combo. Not only does every scene clunk tiresomely along, each successive one seems less believable.

The comedy is mostly obvious and mirthless (unless you are an absolute newcomer to films), and the drama seems overwrought and often plain silly. Every cliche known to man (and movies) is dragged out here, as we get the fertility clinic scene, the search for a surrogate, the hot gay twosome, the nasty and overbearing mother, the overweight black best friend, and, oh, so much more.

We were ready to cry uncle a half-hour in, but the reviewing obligation overrode all else, so we stuck it out, through one thudding misfire after another. Even when something that initially seems more unusual occurs (such as the sudden ban on surrogates in Taiwan and then India), the manner in which these are handled appears almost nonsensical at times. Character reversals, too, cloud the movie's credibility -- first, by the lover who does not want the baby, and finally that of bad mom herself.

There is actually one single bright spot in the film, coming via the performance of an actress named Love Fang in the role of Mickey, the caretaker of the nasty mom. Ms Fang is so real and dear, so genuine and troubled by what her character is asked to do, that suddenly but all too briefly, she lends the film a much-needed dose of truth. (Of course, I could not find a single photo of her among all the many publicity stills from the movie, almost all of which feature Mr. Cheng.)

Content- and theme-wise, Baby Steps has just about everything it needs to be a crowd-pleasing GLBT hit. And yet the way in which Cheng mashes it all together proves so ham-fisted that just about nothing here works as well as it should or, in other hands, very well could.

On the shelf for two years, the movie is at last getting a release -- via Gravitas Ventures -- on VOD & digital, beginning this Tuesday, August 15.

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