You're Old: 'Look Who's Talking' Came Out 25 Years Ago

You're Old: 'Look Who's Talking' Came Out 25 Years Ago

Oct 14, 2014

Do thoughts of your inexorable march toward death consume you day and night? Do you long to rid yourself of all reminders of your advancing mortality? Then take solace in this column, which is about a movie about a baby! A newborn baby full of life and promise! A newborn baby that is now 25 years old!

Yes, Look Who's Talking was released on October 13, 1989, meaning that if you saw it in the theater, You're Old™. We're sorry. This kind of backfired.

When Look Who's Talking is mentioned today, it's usually the butt of a joke, as an example of either the type of idiocy John Travolta was doing before Quentin Tarantino rebooted him, or of how a dumb, innocuous comedy can sometimes inexplicably launch multiple sequels.

But 25 years ago, Look Who's Talking was no joke. It was the fourth highest grossing film of 1989 (domestically and worldwide), and it was the top film at the box office five weekends in a row, more than any other movie that year. It remains the third biggest hit of John Travolta's career, the fourth biggest of Bruce Willis' (third if you adjust for inflation), and THE biggest for Kirstie Alley (including Star Trek II) and for writer-director Amy Heckerling (who also made Clueless and National Lampoon's European Vacation).

Why the world fell in love with this particular bit of nonsense isn't exactly clear. The biggest draw at the time might have been the one who doesn't appear on-screen: Bruce Willis. Travolta hadn't done anything worthwhile since the early 1980s and was becoming a joke himself. Alley had two well-regarded seasons of Cheers under her belt, but she wasn't a movie star. Willis, though, a burgeoning big-screen name thanks to Die Hard, had just finished the final tumultuous season of the buzzy, hip TV series Moonlighting, on which he played a wisecracking detective. Look Who's Talking promised a similar smart-mouthed character in the body of an infant. You gotta admit, that's a hook.

Which is funny, since, as it turns out, hearing the baby "talk" is completely irrelevant to the plot anyway. The story doesn't need it. The story is about a career woman, Mollie (Alley), who gets pregnant, has a baby, then decides the baby needs a father and sets out in search of one. Ultimately, James (Travolta), the cab driver who took her to the hospital when she was in labor -- who went on to become her friend and babysitter for a full year -- is the man for the job. Who would have thought?

"Liberated" is the word they use in the movie to describe a woman who doesn't depend on a man. In context it means that on a date she'd want to pay for her own dinner. The film makes fun of the notion -- Mollie ISN'T liberated; she was expecting her date to pay -- and the movie isn't exactly an anthem for single-by-choice mothers. Mollie is cheating pathetically with a married man in the first place, then makes no effort to get along on her own when he leaves the picture, telling her newborn son, "I'm gonna go out there and find you the best daddy there is!" She tells people that she acquired the baby through artificial insemination, leading James -- the man she will eventually fall in love with -- to ask, "Are you a lesbo?"

So... a modern remake of the film would probably change a few things, is what we're saying.

Given the of-its-time attitudes toward single mothers and women in general, it's surprising that the film tackles the obvious question almost immediately. When Mollie tells her married boyfriend that she's pregnant, she ends with "... and I'm not getting an abortion!" (He assures her he was never going to suggest it.) Compare that to Knocked Up, where the subject didn't arise till the movie was half over, and even then only in the form of the word "shmashmortion." Score one for Look Who's Talking!

Some stray thoughts:

- Abe Vigoda, who plays Travolta's grandfather, looks ancient -- and this was 25 years ago!

- The cute animated li'l fetus version of baby Mikey has a voice and personality almost immediately after conception. In an alternate universe, this is probably used in anti-abortion propaganda.

- Mollie's mother (Olympia Dukakis) overhears James pulling a splinter out of Mollie's finger and misunderstands their dialogue ("It's so big," etc.) as sex. Ugh. Is this THE worst recurring gag in all of moviedom? Discuss.

- While in labor, Mollie screams, "F*** my breathing!" This is a rare case of a PG-13 movie using the F-word as a verb (which the MPAA says automatically gets you an R, though they make exceptions sometimes, though not for low-budget or independent films. But don't get us started).

 

When Look Who's Talking Was Released, on October 13, 1989...

Baywatch Poster- It opened against Halloween 5, which had more theaters but made a third as much money. When faced with a choice between another generic slasher sequel and a talking baby, audiences will always choose the talking baby. The Fabulous Baker Boys and Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors were the other new releases that week, playing against summer holdovers like Parenthood, Uncle Buck and When Harry Met Sally..., all of which were still in the top 10. (Moviegoing habits have changed. The oldest film in the top 10 this past weekend, October 10-12, 2014, came out three weeks ago.)

- As you drove to the mall to watch Look Who's Talking, you might have turned on the radio and heard such current hits as Janet Jackson's "Miss You Much," NKOTB's "Hangin' Tough," Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting," Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time," Young MC's "Bust a Move," Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted," or any of three heavily rotated Milli Vanilli songs ("Blame It on the Rain," "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" and "Baby Don't Forget My Number"). But Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine album was about to come out, so things were looking up.

- Little did we know that four days later, a 7.1 earthquake would strike the San Francisco bay area during a World Series game. It was the most exciting thing to happen in baseball in over a decade.

- New TV shows this fall included Doogie Howser M.D., Baywatch, Family Matters and Life Goes On. Also in TV news, the Comedy Channel was a month away from its debut on cable systems, which would be followed two years later by a name change to Comedy Central. (Today, of course, it is known as the Key & Peele Network.)

- Now-famous people Jason Derulo, Brie Larson, Lil Mama,and Aimee Teegarden were all less than a month old. Mia Wasikowska would be born the next day. Irving Berlin, Bette Davis, Graham Chapman and Ferdinand Marcos had just died, though Marcos would get snubbed at the Oscars' "in memoriam" segment.

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