One silver lining of our current political nightmare is that, if you’re a culture writer, you always have an angle: Whatever you’re writing about is an [Insert Noun] for Trump’s America. Logan is a superhero movie for Trump’s America. The Super Bowl was a sporting event for Trump’s America. Beauty and the Beast is a Beauty and the Beast for Trump’s America. Done and done, commence chin-stroking.
Even though it’s been barely over two months since Inauguration Day, it’s possible this insta-angle might already be wearing a little thin. And if we needed an occasion to officially retire it, it is Friday’s release of The Boss Baby.
No more grasping for political allegory in the latest episode of Riverdale — The Boss Baby has already done all the work for you. This is a film about a little baby, dressed in a baby-sized suit, the seat of whose pants strain to contain his bulbous baby bottom. When the Boss Baby is (spoiler alert) promoted to CEO of his baby company, he’s given a new office, and sits on his new golden toilet at the top of his baby tower, looking out at the world below. When he’s forced to take a photo with the family he’s been “assigned” to, he refuses to smile, saying that it makes him “feel weak.” His favorite expression is a puckered-lip scowl. At one point the Boss Baby (who does not have a name, because his personal and professional identity are indistinguishable) plays with a toy golf set while his older “brother” Timmy works late into the night doing research for him. When Timmy asks why he doesn’t help, the Boss Baby responds, “I’m very busy delegating.”
But beyond that, The Boss Baby is a movie about the imaginary attention economy, first within the family unit (the Boss Baby, being a baby, takes all the attention away from Timmy) and then more fantastically in the Boss Baby’s mission — to sabotage the pet industry. Puppies are becoming more and more popular, and babies are no longer the stars in the cuteness industry. The Boss Baby gathers a cabal of yes-babies and preaches to them about the threat of the encroaching Other, visualized by a pie chart with a shrinking baby slice and an expanding puppy slice. (Birds, cats, and fish are given much smaller slivers of the pie.) “Puppies are winning, babies are losing,” he says ominously to his trembling base.
The Boss Baby sets a new bar for [Insert Noun] in Trump’s America. From here on out, nobody should be allowed to use that angle unless they’re discussing a work with the same incisive, unmistakable political metaphor as DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby. Of course, all involved are insisting it’s all a coincidence, so as not to turn away the coveted Trump-voter demographic at the box office. “We just wanted to tell a story about love and family,” director Tom McGrath told THR, while surely contorting his face into a exaggerated wink and elbowing the reporter in the ribs. The film was based on a children’s picture book originally published in 2010, whose author Marla Frazee is perhaps more willing to accept her abilities as an oracle. “I’m not quite sure that this is how I would have wanted the country’s trajectory to go, but yes, the echoes are very much unbelievable,” she told the same reporter.
But aside from this barely veiled CGI re-creation of our commander in chief and the fear and lies he sells, what solutions does The Boss Baby offer? The Boss Baby, a grumpy infant who wears diapers because he’s too busy doing business to make a trip to the bathroom, is fundamentally damaged, we learn. The reason he’s in “upper baby management” instead of just being a normal baby is due to a sorting process during which he fails to giggle adorably when tickled by a feather. He has no real parents, and having been sent straight to work on his first day of life, he missed out on his entire childhood. “I wasn’t born, I was hired,” he says.
The Boss Baby’s redemption can only arrive when he realizes that he would rather be a baby than a boss. When he finally gets that big promotion and realizes how lonely it is at the top, he quits his post. He rejoins the baby masses and goes back through the baby-sorting line, having now learned to love and feel joy over the course of his adventure with Timmy. He’s redelivered to Timmy’s parents, this time as a cute, normal, gurgling baby.
The message is undeniable: Even if a baby says he wants to be a boss, he really wants to be a baby. We should not let bosses be babies, because they are babies. All other films hoping to become the official cinematic standard-bearer of #TheResistance, take a seat. This is the most damning political narrative of 2017.