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The Under 700 Club: Paternity (1981)
He wants YOU to have his baby!
The Under 700 Club: Reviews in under 700 words for movies with less than 700 logs on Letterboxd (log count as of this publication: 577)
Paternity has one of the all-time great movie posters. Burt Reynolds, presented in Uncle Sam fashion and hoisting the same recruitment pointer finger, wants you to have his baby. Who would say no? I wouldn't.
That's basically the entire plot of this David Steinberg-directed picture. The first screenplay from writer Charlie Peters (who, 17 years later, gave us one of the craziest movies I've ever seen - Krippendorf's Tribe) doesn't have much to it, though I could see half of the page just saying “Burt is charming”.
Burt plays Buddy Evans, the guy who seems to have it all. He's the kinda guy that men want to be and women want to be with. He lives in New York City, runs events at Madison Square Garden (perks include an office that overlooks the arena - too bad the Knicks went 33-49 in the '81-'82 season), and lives the ultimate bachelor life. Unfortunately, at forty, he's over this lonely life and, after a few interactions with some kids, decides he wants to have a son of his own - an "heir," as he calls him.
But a wife? No way! So he decides to hire a surrogate mother to carry his child. In 1981, this was a crazy idea. According to Worldwide Surrogacy Specialists, the "first legally compensated surrogate in the U.S." was Elizabeth Kane, who carried a baby for a couple unable to have children - in 1980! Burt was cutting edge.
Kane (a pseudonym) was paid $11,500. Burt isn't messing around and offers $25,000. His only catch is that the baby-making won't take place using test tubes. Would this have been considered weird? He somehow pulls it off.
Cue scene after scene of Burt meeting eligible candidates. It wouldn't be a movie unless most of them went wrong, like this exchange between Burt's Buddy and a woman called Ms. Werner:
Buddy: What are those? Those things on your teeth.
Ms. Werner: [with a lisp] They're braces.
Buddy: [imitating lisp] I know they're braces. But do you have to wear them?
Ms. Werner: No, they're the latest in costume jewelry. Of course I have to wear them.
Buddy Evans: I see. Well, it's just that I don't want my son to look like Jaws 2.
Then there's my favorite scene in the movie, where Lauren Hutton (can you guess why it's my favorite scene?) plays an interior decorator interviewing for the gig of remodeling Burt's office, while Burt thinks she's there for the other gig for which he's accepting applicants. There's nothing grotesque about it, just some clever wordplay from screenwriter Peters, having both "negotiations" happen simultaneously without the other knowing what they're actually talking about.
He finally finds Maggie, played by the always radiant Beverly D'Angelo. They sign on the dotted line, Burt wines and dines, and a doctor confirms the good news. But, as you can probably guess, it won't be that easy. Burt begins to fall in love (because she's Beverly D'Angelo) and the rest of the movie becomes your standard rom-com fare.
It's easy to say that a movie "doesn't hold up" or "would never be made now" and this movie is the ultimate example of: of course not! Being a bachelor isn't as taboo (literally every person he encounters in the first 20 minutes asks him how a handsome man like himself could go without a family), wanting to be a single parent isn't (as) scandalous, and the entire concept of surrogacy is no longer a mystery to the general public.
Movies change because the world changes. Luckily, the kind of chemistry that Burt and Beverly have is timeless.
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