“Baby Steps” Walks Viewers Through a Gay Adoption
American/Taiwanese Danny has been with his artist boyfriend Tate for two years now and to mark their anniversary Tate gives him a portrait of them both that he has painted. However what Danny really wants is a baby. So too does his mother back in Taiwan who is desperate to be a grandmother, something that her straight single elder son refuses to play along with.
When mother gets wind of Danny’s dream she hopes that her openly gay son is now suddenly ‘batting for the other team’ to make this happen and she is bitterly disappointed to discover that his chosen route to fatherhood is via surrogacy. He doesn’t need to enlist her help with this project as she promptly files to join him in L.A. and just barges in and tries to take over. She is however completely oblivious to the fact that Danny and Tate are an ‘item’ and so on her arrival he is banished back to his own apartment and totally cut out of the equation for the time being.
The problem is that although she knows that Danny is gay she still cannot accept the reality and goes to great lengths to deny his sexuality to herself and the rest of their family.
The search for the right surrogate is long and complicated and is not aided by the fact that for most of it, mother and son are arguing incessantly. At one point the movie seems less like a fictionalised drama and more like a ‘how-to-become-a-gay-dad instructional video.
The movie is the ‘baby’ of actor turned director/writer Barney Cheng who also stars as Danny too and is allegedly based on his own personal experiences. Although a little too earnest in parts, and at least 20 minutes too long, Cheng’s take on how Chinese gay men have to deal with the pressures and expectations of their traditional cultures in a contemporary society is highly admirable. The movie is being compared to Ang Lee’s breakthrough movie the 1993 Oscar Nominated ‘The Wedding Banquet’ , suggesting that ‘Baby Steps’ takes over where that story left off. There are some remarkable touch points in both movies, the most noticeable of which is that the veteran Chinese actress Ya-Lei Kuei plays the mother in both films. Her performance this time around is by far the best as she so skillfully captures the angst of someone who clearly loves her son but is having such difficulty in accepting his world which is so alien to her.
The movie has a great heart and clearly shows that Cheng has great promise as a new filmmaker, but Ang Lee he is not, so to be fair this entertaining wee feel-good film with everyone living happily ever after should be judged on its own merits.