Part of the late ’80s mini-wave of baby movies, which includes 1987’s Baby Boom and Three Men and a Baby, and 1989’s long-awaited Ghostbusters 2, Look Who’s Talking is, for my money, the most tolerable of the bunch thanks to writer-director Amy Heckerling’s script, which has some solid jokes and manages to avoid being overly cutesy given the premise. The story concerns single mother Mollie (Kirstie Alley), her son Mikey, and cab driver/part-time pilot/general loser James (John Travolta, in his first comeback role). The gimmick in this film is that we get to hear Mikey’s thoughts, voiced by Bruce Willis going from sperm to toddler. This is during Willis’ peak years so he doesn’t sound quite as bored as he would later in his career. The baby scenes are cute, but what makes this movie work is the real chemistry between Travolta and Alley, and I can buy her going from being picky about potential fathers for Mikey to falling in love with a loser who actually cares about her son.
The trend of baby movies seemed to follow the trend of Baby Boomers settling down and having their own children, and it’s fitting that former avatar of cool John Travolta plays the lead. Travolta’s career had him hitting the same hallmarks boomers as a whole were experiencing, from ’50s nostalgia (1978’s Grease), drug-fueled disco (1977’s Saturday Night Fever), a country phase (1980’s Urban Cowboy), and physical fitness mania (1985’s Perfect). Here, his performance rides the line between being cool and being a lovable doofus, and I can image older members of the audience feeling a lot of that same emotion themselves as they found themselves settling deeper into adulthood, into that moment when you’re no longer the cool guy and have to refocus how you view yourself when you suddenly have another life to take care of.
Aside from its place as a comeback vehicle for Travolta, I wanted to to write this piece mainly because, as a former DJ who was heavily into the bar and club scene and who married a single mother, this film hits differently for me now than it did when I was younger. Back then, the jokes about fucking, the talking sperm, Abe Vigoda as a cantankerous old bastard — all of it was hilarious and endlessly quotable to me and my friends. But now, much of the dialogue I hear in this movie about the concerns of who you’re dating, what you’re looking for as a single parent, the issues with the biological father — all of it feels more real than it did when I was just laughing at the poop and sex jokes. Really, aside from surreal scenes of racing sperm and white trash Alley and Travolta belching and eating out of dumpsters, nothing in Look Who’s Talking makes it an unheralded classic that deserves a rewatch. It’s a funny movie that my wife and I quote nearly every single day, but to steal a line from Ethan Hawke, it isn’t Bresson. That’s one of the weird ways film works: movies that don’t necessarily deserve it slide their way into your life and become part of your everyday thoughts. It’s the same kind of chemical alchemy that happens when a child enters your life that gets you crying during Ant Man, or makes it nearly impossible to watch Pet Semetary again. Movies that were passible time wasters become more to you, and something as disposable as Look Who’s Talking becomes your life.