There’s a subgenre of late-’80s and early-’90s faux-family fare that takes big stars of the era, casts them alongside cute tots, smooshes in a bunch of sex references, and calls itself comedy. Look Who’s Talking (1989) and its vile sequel Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) are perhaps the most egregious manifestations. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite movie Kindergarten Cop (1990), which flipped my lid in the theater as a kid and also recently made its way into the culture wars as “copaganda,” was also part of the trend. (Though it seems like a candidate for the genre at first blush, do not mistake Baby Boom (1987) as a fellow offender; early TBP readers know it is a masterpiece and my personal manual for life.)
Three Men and a Baby (1987), which follows three bachelor roommates who together attempt to provide care and feeding to a newborn girl named Mary who appears on their doorstep, is nowhere near as offensive as the aforementioned examples. But it still isn’t something you’d want to sit through with your kids (we recently tried). We did, though, find one movie in this category in which the formula actually works, while also challenging the wisdom that sequels are always inferior to the original: Three Men and a Little Lady (1990, Disney+) is really good!
In a previous post, I called The Sound of Music the ultimate blended-family movie. Upon watching Little Lady, my 10-year-old stepdaughter and I agreed that it actually takes the cake. In Little Lady, Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg play “honorary daddies”—architect Peter and cartoonist Michael —alongside Ted Danson, as actor Jack, the biological daddy of a now five-year-old Mary (Robin Weisman). Mary’s mother, actress Sylvia (Nancy Travis), also lives with this crew in an implausibly gigantic downtown New York apartment. But when she gets engaged to uppity-at-best British director Edward (Christopher Cazenove), the family’s lovely, love-driven arrangement is threatened. Little Lady is a fantastic portal into the aspirational lifestyle of the early ’90s and a hilarious showcase for all three star actors, who seem to be having a blast. In addition to the loose, warm performances from our leading men, a 30-year-old Fiona Shaw steals scene after scene as Miss Elspeth Lomax, a boarding-school headmistress with the hots for Peter. Shaw now has a great career playing hardcore types on TV like Killing Eve’s Carolyn Martens, but I beg Hollywood to give this lady a chance to do full-on slapstick again!
Midway through, Little Lady takes us from the flashy excesses of New York to the stuffy excesses of the English countryside, where it becomes clear that somehow, someway, someone must STOP THE WEDDING. The outrageous set piece of the last act left our family cheering (“Go, go, go!” exclaimed our 15-year-old, in an increasingly rare moment of unselfconsciousness), and its final twist will tickle your kids whether or not they’ve figured it out before the big reveal.
Q: Can you guess who directed Little Lady but not Baby?
A: Emilio Ardolino, who also made Sister Act and Dirty Dancing! TBP is officially an Ardolino fansite now.