Film Review: BABY STEPS (USA 2015) ***

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baby stepsDanny, a Taiwanese-American man, and his partner Tate long to have a baby, but the complex world of international surrogacy is further complicated by Danny’s well-meaning but extremely meddlesome Ma who wants to control every aspect of the process all the way from Taipei…

Director: Barney Cheng
Writers: Barney Cheng (screenplay), Barney Cheng
Stars: Tzi Ma, Michael Adam Hamilton, Jason Stuart

 Review by Gilbert Seah

When gay films first started appearing on the screen, they dished out fresh topics like coming out, cross cultural gay relationships, partying, drug use, gay biographies, cruising, sex change, gay marriage and rent boys. New ideas for a gay film are running out. BABY STEPS deals with an Asian mother meddling into her son’s gay relationship in her never ending quest for a perfect grandchild.

The film is written, directed by and co-stars Barney Cheng as the Taiwanese American, Danny in an Asian-Caucasian gay couple relationship. The mother is played by Grace Guei, who starred in Ang Lee’s famous THE WEDDING BANQUET. BABY STEPS adds the modern spin on surrogacy. Mother and son travel the world including Taipei, Bangkok, Mumbai and Los Angeles to search for a surrogate mother. It is a gay story told for the first time, from a gay mother’s point of view.

Cheng knows the poignant moments in the life of a typical gay couple and milks them shamelessly. Scenes like the reunion after a trail separation and showering together are examples which he puts on screen to strengthen the audience’s conception of the strength of the relationship.

Cheng’s humour is mildly funny with hardly any laugh out loud moments.

Actress Grace Guei, reported in the press notes to be the Taiwanese version of Meryl Streep (not going to argue this), though not bad in her role is not given much to do much except to sulk and look sympathetic for all the meddling she has done. Cheng’s character uses the word ‘okay’ mixed with his mandarin dialogue, once too many times. Cheng might be remembered or his role in Woody Allen’s HOLLYWOOD ENDING. Michael Adam Hamilton passes as his pretty boy boyfriend, always all smiles and catering too much to the Asian needs.

The film could have concentrated more on the coming-of-age of the couple’s relationship, instead of always assuming that everything will be ok. The film at least considers other substantial issues like the emotions and fears of the surrogate mother. Danny’s mother, typical of gay mothers is still ashamed to come out to her friends other gay son – another important issue dealt here. In BABY STEPS, these topics offer a fresh look on cross-cultural gay relationships.

Though BABY STEPS makes no great strides in the progress of gay films, it does leave a mark. The film suffers from an over-sentimental melodramatic ending.
Small films like BABY STEPS with a smaller target gay audience usually complete a successful LGBT festival run before going to the various VOD platforms. If the films are really lucky, they might earn a limited theatrical release. For BABY STEPS, it opened in Taiwan on Mother’s Day 2015, and was part of a national discussion on LGBT rights that helped propel Taiwan to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2017. Of worldwide significance, the U.S. State Department has hosted U.S. embassy screenings of BABY STEPS throughout Asia, including China, Mongolia, and Myanmar – to share the American value of LGBT equality around the globe. BABY STEPS will release digitally in the U.S. and Canada on August 15th via Gravitas Ventures.


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