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She’s Having a Baby (1988): This Woman’s Work

She’s Having a Baby is a romantic comedy about a young couple who move to the suburbs to begin a family but discover that getting started isn’t so easy. A box office disappointment, it failed to find an audience but remains one of director John Hughes more affecting films.

By the end of he 1980s, one man was king of the teen and young adult genre. Writer/director John Hughes had created some of the most iconic and popular movies of the decade and made household names out of his stars. While teen angst, acceptance, and other-side-of-the-tracks love stories were the real winners, he snuck in this little gem that didn’t score with theater-goers as it delved a bit more deeper into adult themes while only playing into the typical John Hughes formula in a cursory way. For those who missed it, it’s one well worth seeking.

A relatively simple concept, it stars Kevin Bacon as Jake Briggs and Elizabeth McGovern as Kristy. They are a couple embarking on their next chapter together. Told almost exclusively from Jake’s point of view, with voice-over and commentary, it examines his would-be transition from carefree bachelor to responsible husband, and more. While often presented as comedy, with fantastical elements, there is a palpable layer of realism to the film that resonates beyond the laughs.

She's Having a Baby
She’s Having a Baba, 1988 ©Paramount Pictures

The plot in summary sees Jake about to marry his sweetheart Kristy, despite protests from Jake’s best friend Davis (Alec Baldwin) who thinks Jake is too young to be committed. Jake goes through with it and he and Kristy move to the suburbs and try to cope with the realties of being adults, the pressures of their parents, and as the title gives away, have a baby. Along the way, the narrative mixes humorous vignettes with surprising emotional moments.

As mentioned, it centers on Jake and his attempt to adjust to the domesticated setting of a marriage, something he doesn’t quite feel fully a part of. This leads to insecurities about his role and eventually, sexual fantasies with another women. None of this is meant to paint him in a negative light, but rather reveal he is in fact a good man who knows his destiny lies in the arms of the mother of his future child.

Hughes skillfully blends the decidedly weighty subject of having a baby with a solid mix of good humor, though perhaps a bit too much as it sometimes teeters on an edge, seemingly unsure which side it should fall on. Both Bacon and McGovern make for an appealing and compelling couple, convincing in their potentially stereotypical roles, and indeed, both these character traits, the still immature male and the more responsible female are explored, but that is entirely the point and Hughes doesn’t over-do the obvious. It’s a great contribution from Hughes, and like every movie, it has one great moment. (Spoilers Ahead)

This Woman’s Work

As the young couple maneuver through the delicate early stages of their marriage, they encounter a slew of predicable hurdles, but it is her inability to become pregnant that becomes the focus. Jake, once told it is partially his fault they can’t conceive, must learn to make a few changes. Sex becomes perfuctory, scientific, and carefully timed with special apparatus making the act if not comical, downright methodical. Eventually though, they succeed and when the time comes for Kristy to deliver, things take an unexpected turn. A dangerous (but unspecified) complication strikes Kirsty during childbirth and she is rushed to surgery, leaving Jake and the parents alone in the waiting room. From here, we wait with them and wonder the outcome. And we do so through Jake’s eyes.

She's having a Baby
She’s Having a Baba, 1988 ©Paramount Pictures

Naturally, the journey to this moment is the focus of the film as Jake deals with the coming baby. These sequences generate memories for Jake that are crucial in giving this moment its weight, a scene that is entirely dialogue free. Hughes knows a thing or two about coaxing emotions, and the sudden shift to drama is very effective as Jake sits separated from the others. In tears, he flashes back to memories of Kristy, the movie presenting highlights of their story. These moments allow Jake to reflect on his actions, to consider the importance of his growth, and connect with the value of his relationship, no matter the hardships, real or imagined, he faced. What’s important is the reaction shots of Jake as each of these pass through his mind and on our screens. He smiles, joyful of the time he has had with her, recognizing the significance of even the smaller moments. There is a mournful acceptance to his far away gaze.

Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, is English singer-songwriter Kate Bush performing a song written especially for this film. Titled This Woman’s Work, the song’s lyrics echo that of the film, with a man facing an unexpected crisis as his wife goes into labor. It’s a poignant tune, and while many films use pop songs to layer their stories, few have this kind of impact as it was written specifically for this moment and feels so deeply personal. In the entirety of Hughes’ lengthy filmography, which are notable for their emotional denouement, this stands out as genuine and something more important, earned.

Hughes’ direction of this moment shouldn’t be overlooked either. Keeping Jake in tight close-up for most of it, the montage of previous events drift past with dreamy, ethereal elegance, all in slow-motion as if Jake is savoring very possible ounce of his memories, compiling a catalog of reasons why she is so special. He never speaks, and his reflections are in silence as there is no need for a voice. Kate Bush speaks for him. Notice how Jake sits by himself, with his and her parents crowded to the opposite corner.

She's Having A Baby
She’s Having a Baby, 1988 ©Paramount Pictures

Like the words Bush sings, his part is over, and so he must wait, and do so alone, just as Kristy fights by herself in the operating room nearby. It’s symbolic of course, and perhaps obvious, but when looking closely at the shot, it’s apparent this is the director’s intent. He places the people in this scene in cones of soft light, the space between in deep shadow, a giant black pillar separating them all. Jake has become a much different man from when we first met, sitting first in a car with Davis contemplating running away from his wedding day at the start of the story to sitting in a hospital waiting room wondering if his wife will even survive the night. It is the time from that point to this one that has shaped his complex character and made this emotional scene feel so true. It’s a great moment.

She's Having a Baby (1988)

Film Credits

Director: John Hughes
Writer: John Hughes
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth McGovern, Alec Baldwin
Genre: Romance, Comedy

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