In Los Angeles, Danny (Barney Cheng) is a well-respected gay man with a long-term boyfriend, and together they are planning to have a baby. However, in his homeland of Taiwan, his mother, Ma (Grace Guei), is still uncomfortable with her son’s sexuality, never asks about his love-life and doesn’t even know about his partner, Tate (Michael Adam Hamilton).
Danny hasn’t told his mom about his baby plans, but when his brother lets the secret out, Ma gets very excited, as it means she may finally get a grandchild. She flies out to LA, where she’s less than impressed with Danny’s surrogacy plans, and also unsure how to deal with Danny’s ‘friend’, Tate. As they struggle to deal with one another, the hoped for baby could bring them all together and finally get Ma to accept her son, or it could drive them all apart.
I was a little concerned about Baby Steps for the first few minutes, due to a rather old-fashioned feel. However, it quickly pulls back from slightly cringe-inducing montages and blurry-edged reveries of fatherhood, and once it does it’s all the better for it.
To be honest though, the whole plot does feel a little 1990s. It particularly owes a debt to Ang Lee’s 1993 movie The Wedding Banquet, even to the point of having Grace Guei playing a similar role in this movie as the one she played in that (although slightly less oblivious to her son’s sexuality this time around). Thankfully though, despite the slightly 90s feel to parts of it – despite the more 2010s subject of gay surrogacy being dealt with – it’s still entertaining.
Some who are likely to feel Ma is a bit of a stereotype – a pushy, passive-aggressive, Taiwanese woman obsessed with controlling her children’s lives and acting like the possibility of having a grandchild is the only reason to live. Although there is undoubtedly some cultural truth in this, it does feel like it’s the only type of older Asian woman allowed in movies. In the early parts of the film she takes it to the extreme, to the point where her passive aggressive manipulation threatens to become full on emotional abuse. Thankfully the character reveals more complexity and empathy for other as the movie goes along. It also helps that it looks like Guei had fun with the role.
Baby Steps manages to mine a lot of entertainment from its set-up. Whether it’s Ma pretending her son is straight to her Taiwanese friends, or Tate’s uncertainties about fatherhood. There’s also the difficulties of becoming a gay dad, with Danny and Tate having to find a suitable surrogate and/or an egg– not helped by Ma’s interference – which results in an international odyssey taking in America, Taiwan, India and Singapore.
At the heart of the movie though is the relationship between Danny and Ma. We may have seen a mother having difficulty accepting her gay son many times before (and the cross-cultural angle isn’t completely new either), but it’s done in a really heartfelt way. Many will be able to empathise with Danny’s predicament as he tries to live his own life in his own way, while finding it difficult to escape the need to honour his mother – irrespective of how unreasonable or emotionally offensive her attitudes are.
It also helps the film was made with charm, heart and a sense of humour. There are quite a few genuinely witty moments that’ll keep a smile on your face. It doesn’t hurt either that Barney Cheng and Michael Adam Hamilton make a very cute couple, and the film finds multiple excuses for the rather buff Hamilton to take his shirt off.
Overall Verdict: It may have a slightly old-fashioned feel at time, but Baby Steps is a sweet and rather charming look at gay fatherhood and a mother/son relationship.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac