A man gestating and giving birth to a baby! Can you even imagine? Well, yes. But 1994 was a different time. A time when men having babies was science fiction but Emma Thompson snogging Arnold Schwarzenegger was all too real. I couldn’t write about dads as primary caregivers without considering a movie in which a (cis) man literally has a baby. Junior isn’t the only example of this, but it’s probably the best known.
It starts when the FDA decides not to approve the development of a new drug, Expectane, that scientist Dr. Alex Hesse (Arnie) and OB/Gyn Dr. Larry Arbogast (Danny DeVito) have been working on. The medication reduces the risk of miscarriage in chimps, and the men want to trial it with women. But having failed with the FDA, Hesse’s university withdraws his lab funding and installs Dr. Diana Reddin (Emma Thompson) and her ovum cryogenics project in his place.
Undeterred, Arbogast convinces Hesse to try “sort of a guest host situation”, with Hesse carrying an embryo through the first trimester in order to gather data. Hesse reluctantly agrees, as long as Arbogast can find a willing egg donor. Instead, Arbogast steals a frozen egg labeled “Junior” from Reddin’s lab (which — spoiler alert — is from her own very personal supply), fertilizing it with Hesse’s sperm and injecting it into the perineal cavity (of course).
After a few days of taking regular doses of Expectane and “female hormones,” Hesse discovers he’s pregnant — and his personality changes. He starts to take on stereotypically feminine attributes: He cries at schmaltzy commercials and says he hasn’t got a thing to wear when dressing for dinner. After a night out with their former colleagues in which Hesse is uncharacteristically gregarious, flirting and dancing with Reddin, Arbogast tells him, “your hormone surges are getting out of control” and demands they end the trial early.
Arbogast tells Hesse that the embryo will break down and be reabsorbed by his body as soon as he stops his medication. But the movie avoids wasting Reddin’s egg/antagonizing the “pro-life” movement when Hesse decides to continue his pregnancy in secret. Reddin has offered to share lab space with Hesse, so he has to (literally and figuratively) cover up his pregnancy in her presence, citing a mysterious European illness that makes men fat. She responds by saying she has it worse: “You should try being a woman sometime, it’s a nightmare. Your body goes peculiar with your first period and it doesn’t stop until menopause. It’s a lifetime of leaking and swelling, spotting and smears, crippling cramps, raging hormones…”
It’s a speech that demonstrates a very mid-’90s understanding of feminism, one that uses biological differences to “prove” men and women will never be equal. In fact, this entire (male-written, male-directed) film is an extended straw-man argument, attempting to prove that women don’t really want equality because we don’t like it when men are the ones having babies. When Reddin learns that Hesse is carrying her baby, she tells him: “You think men don’t hold enough cards, you have to take this away from us as well?” (A reaction, by the way, that Arbogast later pronounces “typical.”)
When Arbogast’s ex-wife, Angela, who is also pregnant, sees him touch Hesse’s belly (to feel the baby kick), she assumes they’re gay, which she handles like someone who’s never heard of homosexuality, stuttering: “What are you, like… a twosome?” Hesse’s response is simple: “I’m gonna be a mama, too.” The movie endorses the idea that biology is everything, suggesting both that carrying a baby makes someone a woman, and that women have maternal urges even when their baby’s egg is implanted in someone else, with Reddin having sudden pangs of concern for Hesse’s wellbeing.
Surprisingly, however, there are a few progressive moments, too. When Hesse’s ex-boss finds out about his pregnancy and tries to capture him so the university can take credit for and custody of his baby, Hesse escapes, shouting, “My body, my choice.” While it’s used by a man and played for laughs, it’s still great to hear a pro-choice rallying cry in a mainstream movie. Later, Hesse hides out by posing as a woman (about which the less said the better) in a spa for rich pregnant ladies, where he spends a few days learning how to put diapers on dolls. During some kind of sharing circle, one of the anonymous written comments (presumably Hesse’s) is about not feeling like a natural mother, and the woman leading the session is emphatic that those kinds of judgments are meaningless, saying: “There is no standard. There are no naturals.” Later, having forgiven Hesse, Dr. Reddin (a rare on-screen female scientist!) visits him to discuss their child’s future — and to suggest in a notably straightforward fashion that they sleep together.
At the end of the movie, we see the happy family celebrating their child’s birthday, along with Arbogast, his ex, and the baby they’ve decided to raise together. Reddin is now pregnant, as if to restore the natural order of the universe. But when Angela says she doesn’t think she could go through pregnancy again, Reddin suggests Arbogast do it, instead. Which is fine with me—as long as no one makes a film about it.