Harvey’s Hellhole: My Baby’s Daddy

Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein, during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. Since June is Pride Month, let’s go back to the time a promising, lesbian filmmaker was brought in to helm a very bad bro comedy. 

In the late ‘90s and early aughts, there was a brief, hot moment there when Eddie Griffin was poised to become the Next Big, Black Comedy Superstar.

Mostly known at the time for being the Oscar Madison to Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s Felix Unger on the UPN sitcom Malcolm & Eddie, the rhythmic, rubbery-limbed comic with the foul mouth and the fast moves was making his presence known on the big screen. In 1999, he wrote and starred in the Master P-produced, semi-autobiographical dramedy Foolish and co-starred as Rob Schneider’s pimp in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. A couple years later, he teamed up with Orlando Jones in the buddy action comedy Double Take. 2002 was his golden year, with supporting roles in the Denzel Washington drama John Q and the teen farce The New Guy, as well as the lead in the Austin Powers-goes-blaxploitation spy spoof Undercover Brother, co-written by future Oscar winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and directed Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man), aka Spike’s cousin.

Griffin also had a brief working relationship with Miramax. In 2003, the studio distributed his concert film/documentary Dysfunktional Family, which combined footage of the man entertaining an Indiana audience with clips of him and his eccentric relatives. Later that year, he did a cameo in Scary Movie 3, which had him dressing up like Laurence Fishburne from the Matrix movies. His time with Miramax came to an astoundingly awful end with the release of My Baby’s Daddy, which Griffin co-wrote and co-stars in. 

Griffin is Lonnie, a cornrowed, bespectacled nerd who shares a South Philly bachelor pad with childhood buddies G (a chunky, pre-Black-ish Anthony Anderson) and Dominic (The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli). They manage to impregnate their significant others on the same night, which leads to the boys becoming new fathers at the same time. 

As you would expect, farcical hijinks ensue as these so-called playboys become inept, inexperienced dads. (Yes, streams of baby pee do end up in somebody’s face.) They’re definitely not seen as fatherly material in the eyes of the women they knocked up. Lonnie’s ratchet-as-hell girlfriend (Paula Jai Parker) is basically using him and the baby for money, while G’s Asian boo (Bai Ling) wants him to hang up his pipe dreams of being a boxer and become more integral in her family’s supermarket business. As for Dominic’s girl (Joanna Bacalso), she practically shacks up with her midwife after their ill-fated fling.

The $18 million film was shot in the fall of 2002 (mostly in Toronto), but was eventually dumped into theaters in January 2004, where it came up short and grossed only $12 million. It currently has a jaw-dropping 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. And once you witness how much of a lazy, asinine drag it is, you’ll understand why critics ripped it to shreds. Griffin and the three other credited screenwriters come up with jokes and characters that are tired, lame and downright embarrassing. Most of the Black cast (which also includes Good Times patriarch John Amos as Lonnie’s cranky uncle and rapper Method Man as G’s ex-con cousin, aptly named No Good) play their roles as stereotypically ghetto as possible. And while it’s refreshingly progressive to see Anderson and Ling as interracial parents, keep in mind ol’ girl’s family members still have names like Cha Ching, Fung-Yu and, of course, Bling Bling.

Believe it or not, this brotastic trash heap was directed by LGBTQ filmmaker Cheryl Dunye. In the mid-‘90s, the Liberia-born, Philly-bred Dunye made headlines when her 1996 debut feature The Watermelon Woman, which received a $31,500 National Endowment for the Arts grant, led to right-wingers like Republican Representative Peter Hoekstra criticizing the NEA for using taxpayer money to fund films with hot girl-on-girl action

In a 2004 Filmmaker Magazine interview with Mario Van Peebles (who admitted he “got a kick out of [Daddy]”), Dunye said she was brought into Daddy “pretty late” and the whole thing was “pretty much a mess.” (Miramax probably brought her in thinking she’d bring some authentic Philly flavor to the film). At the time, she was one of the few up-and-coming LGBTQ filmmakers, alongside Mark Christopher (54) and Tommy O’Haver (Get Over It), who were called up by the Weinsteins to make films for Miramax. And, as with those guys and their disastrous projects, Dunye didn’t have a blast making Daddy. “It was odd, man,” she told Vanity Fair a couple years ago. “I was just completely invisible, even in the process of me making the film. My film was edited completely over. It wasn’t my film. That’s what you really learn.”

Indeed, Daddy is one disjointed, poorly-edited, Frankenstein monster-of-a-movie. Whoever cut this thing didn’t give one ounce of a fuck about continuity. (Throughout the film, all three leads go back-and-forth with the different hairstyles and facial hair.) As my friend and fellow Marquee contributor Sean Burns once wrote, Daddy “appears to have been edited by shoving scenes through an electric fan.” 

In 2016, Dunye told the Los Angeles Times that the experience soured her from making any more studio movies. “It took me over the edge and I said I’m not going to do this [ever again],” she said. Dunye went on to direct several queer-themed shorts as well as many episodes of TV. She mostly specializes in shows featuring people of color: The Chi, Queen Sugar, Dear White People, Lovecraft Country, Bridgerton, etc.

As for Griffin, his post-Miramax filmography is littered with straight-to-DVD junk. He did get supporting roles in some theatrical films, including Norbit, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and, most recently, A Star Is Born. But those who remember when Griffin was at his peak also remember how the ride was cut short by My Baby’s Daddy, a critically reviled flop that’s more foolish than, well, Foolish.

My Baby’s Daddy is available to rent or buy.

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