She’s Having A Baby – John Hughes Grows Up?

I had just graduated High School when I saw She’s Having A Baby for the first time. I went to see it because, I mean, this was Kevin Bacon – the guy who was in Footloose. And it was written and directed by John Hughes. C’mon! The guy who gave us so many great films in the 80’s like The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, my personal favorite Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and so many more. I was only 18 so being a husband and a father were not on my radar yet which meant the subject matter of She’s Having A Baby didn’t seem like it was going to interest me much. But it was John Hughes so I figured, “why not?”

The movie was so personal to John Hughes that he put a special thank you for “Inspiration” to his wife Nancy Hughes at the end of the closing credits.

Now, over 30 years later, it feels to me like She’s Having A Baby has become something of a footnote in the John Hughes and Kevin Bacon biographies. Certainly Mr. Bacon has had a long career filled with many successes while Mr. Hughes may have gone but he left behind a wonderful filmography from his brief Hollywood reign as the king of the teenage romance. So while of course John Hughes will always be remembered for films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone, I come to you today to offer for a rediscovery a film he wrote, directed and produced in 1988 – She’s Having A Baby.

Bacon stars as Jefferson Briggs (nicknamed Jake) as the film opens on the day of his wedding to Kristy, played by a delightful Elizabeth McGovern. We also meet Jake’s best friend Davis (an early supporting role from Alec Baldwin) who is offering support (we’ll call it that) to Jake as they sit outside the church pondering the meaning of marriage right before the wedding. The universal feelings of uncertainty before committing your life to another person are explored while at the same time we are shown how Jake and Kristy met through flashback. In fact, uncertainty is the foundation of the film. And this opening scene beautifully sets the stage if you will for the remainder of the movie.

She’s Having A Baby was made at almost the exact same time as another John Hughes classic – Planes, Trains and Automobiles. So much in fact that the stars of both films have cameo appearances in the opposite film. For example, Kevin Bacon is the anonymous New Yorker at the beginning of Planes, Trains and Automobiles that races Steve Martin for the cab.

Without really trying to give away where it goes (I mean, the ultimate conclusion to the film is right there in the title) I want to say that the real beauty of this film is in journey it takes. Along the way Jake drops out of school and ends up in advertising. While that career brings some financial success it doesn’t bring real happiness as Jake isn’t able to do what he really loves – which is to write. We see an old-fashioned block party (old-fashioned because: who knows their neighbors anymore?) and we meet Jake and Kristy’s crazy neighbors. We are shown the in-laws who are eager to be given Grandchildren and throughout it all, we see Jake’s friend Davis who seems to have everything but is ultimately depicted as an empty human being because he hasn’t found anything truly purposeful in his life.

The film is narrated throughout by Jake in voiceover and by the end we’ve realized that the voiceover is Jake actually writing their story. It is personal and poignant, particularly I’m sure for any man who has shared the journey with a woman who is the mother of his child. The sense of astonishment and wonder at what a woman endures to bring a child into the world is fully realized in the movie and for me gives the story its heart.

The fact is, when I first saw She’s Having A Baby I wasn’t conscious of how meaningful it would eventually become to me. Like I said, I was 18 on first viewing and I thought it was funny, and clever and I liked the soundtrack but it wasn’t like my mind was blown by this awesome film at first blush. Over many years though, and over multiple re-watches, the movie has become a very special one to me. Filled with some highly clever humor, extremely quirky moments and some marvelously subtle lead performances, here are at least Five Reasons why She’s Having A Baby is absolutely worth another look.

Believe it or not, Elizabeth McGovern had been the first choice to play “Ariel” in Footloose opposite Kevin Bacon in 1984, but turned the role down to instead play “Deborah Gelly” in Once Upon A Time In America.

1. We get to see inside Jake’s mind

As I wrote above, the character of Jake narrates the story throughout and it’s not until the end that we realize it is him writing the story of their life. One particularly funny aspect of this narration is when we get to see Jake’s imagination come alive. My personal favorites include when Jake and his wife receive instruction from their in-laws on how to properly conceive a child (they are wearing miner helmets as they give verbal directions) or when Kristy tells Jake that she has decided to stop taking her birth control pills (he sees himself launched on a speeding train train towards certain death). But the best, the absolute best, is when Jake imagines his neighbors engaged in an intricate song and dance sequence as they mow their lawns and do yard work. You can enjoy that quirky, zany little scene by clicking here: She’s Having A Baby – Lawnmower Dance

2. The Corporate Bosses / The Neighbors / The In-Laws

The movie is filled with observations from Jake about the people around him and the influence that each has on him. They are all funny, and clever and a little heartbreaking too in their own ways but they all highlight an important aspect of Jake’s journey. When the neighbors ask Jake what kind of mower he has at the block party; when the new Mother-in-law comments on how little your housing dollar can buy these days; when Jake’s boss tells him that he should settle for a dull professional life rather than one that might bring him joy – all of these forces serve to influence Jake and bring him further to a place of understanding.

There are some who have criticized the character of Jake who seems satisfied to be acted upon by these people in his life, but to me that’s a part of what gives the story some real depth. Every human being understands, to some degree, the feeling of uncertainty about the direction their life is going and the Jake character is a great embodiment of that emotion. That every one of these characters is played by some magnificent performers makes them even more appealing – William Windom, Holland Taylor, Paul Gleason, Dennis Dugan, John Ashton, Larry Hankin, Edie McClurg – all terrific supporting players.

Before he became a major star, Alec Baldwin appeared in several supporting roles in films such as Beetlejuice, Working Girl, Great Balls of Fire and… She’s Having A Baby.

3. Alec Baldwin in a supporting role

In 1988 Alec Baldwin had not yet hit it big. That wouldn’t come until the release of The Hunt For Red October in 1990. Before that he played several supporting roles in some moderately successful films like Beetlejuice, Working Girl, Married To The Mob and Great Balls of Fire receiving increasing acclaim along the way. In She’s Having A Baby Baldwin plays Davis, the college buddy of Kevin Bacon’s Jefferson Briggs. He’s appropriately good-looking and smarmy as he provides a bit of a shadow antagonist to the story and one that’s perfectly put in his place. To this day, over 30 years later, I still often quote the line, “It’s rude and it’s wrong but it’s right on the money” as delivered by Baldwin in a pivotal scene from the film.

4. The baby names

During the closing credits there are little cameos with a lot of movie people suggesting names for the baby. As two other John Hughes films were in production around the same time – Planes, Trains and Automobiles and The Great Outdoors – several of the actors in those films appeared in this baby names sequence as well as some other famous folks. For some laughs, you can watch it here: She’s Having A Baby – Baby Name Credits

In the late 1980’s movies about babies were all the rage. Films like Baby Boom, Three Men and a Baby, For Keeps and Look Who’s Talking kept the Box Office hopping with stories about newborns.

5. The last song – “This Woman’s Work”

John Hughes was a notoriously savvy director when it came to music in his films. Many iconic moments in his movies are inextricably tied to the songs that play as underscore in the scenes. Think “If You Were Here” by The Thompson Twins at the climax of Sixteen Candles or “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds at the conclusion of The Breakfast Club. I could go on and on with examples.

But in She’s Having A Baby he hit on the ultimate fusion of music and moment. As Jake sits in the hospital waiting room worrying for Kristy, his mind thinks back to how he and Kristy came to this place together. An emotional montage of his memories are underscored by an original song composed specifically for the moment called “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush. Ms. Bush wrote the song at the request of the director who sent her footage of the scenes during which the song would play. She wrote the song as a direct response to illustrate what Jake would say to Kristy in the moment of crisis. I think it’s beautiful and it’s my favorite part of the movie. Check it out here: She’s Having A baby – This Woman’s Work

So, if you’ve reached this point this is where I ask you to give this film another chance (or, in some cases, a first chance). I promise, there will be some laughs, maybe a few tears, but I think you’ll mostly be surprised by the emotional response to such a seemingly overlooked film.

⭐ For more information on where to Buy, Rent, or Stream She’s Having A Baby, click here for the She’s Having A Baby JustWatch page.

The official theatrical trailer for the 1988 John Hughes film She’s Having A Baby starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern.

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