A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Put Me Back In!”. A 30th Anniversary Celebration Of Writer & Director Amy Heckerling’s Clever, Sharply Scripted 80’s Essential Charmer “Look Who’s Talking”. Becoming The Fourth Highest Grossing Film Of The Entire 1989 Year & Grossing $300 Million, “Look Who’s Talking” Is A Big Highlight Of John Travolta & Kirstie Alley’s Career. Like Baby Mikey This Film Is Charming & Irresistible, Even Thirty Years Later.
In the late 1980s Hollywood went through a cycle of “baby pictures”. There was Diane Keaton’s “Baby Boom” (1987), the best film of the bunch “3 Men and a Baby” from 1987 (which was based on the then recent French film “Three Men and a Cradle” from 1985), Kevin Bacon’s “She’s Having a Baby” (1988), and the second best of the baby themed films “Look Who’s Talking” from 1989.
Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who got her big break in 1982 with the teen comedy classic “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”. Heckerling went on to write and direct “Johnny Dangerously” and the sequel “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. She would go on to write and direct one of the biggest pop cultural phenomenons, 1995’s “Clueless”. Although her biggest success to date theatrically is 1989’s “Look Who’s Talking” with the utterly charming John Travolta and the beautiful Kirstie Alley.
Amy Heckerling was inspired to write “Look Who’s Talking” (it’s original working titles included “Big Talk” and “Daddy’s Home”), after her husband (who has a cameo as Kirstie Alley’s character’s boss), and their friend and writer Neal Israel, started playfully talking in a different voice to pretend what their new baby would say.
The movie stars Kirstie Alley, best known as the bar manager Rebecca from the tv series “Cheers”, as accountant Molly who’s having an affair with a boorish, self-centered businessman (George Seagal “The Goldbergs”). Molly gets pregnant, he cheats on her with a younger woman and suddenly she’s a single mom. She encounters the charming John Travolta through the standard movie meet cute, as she goes into labor in his taxi as he races her to the hospital. Molly gives birth to Mikey in an elaborately, irresistably silly “Fantastic Voyage” title sequence, set to The Beach Boys “I Get Around”. Also note the film has a great soundtrack that includes Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door”.
The rest of the movie plays out as lightweight and warmhearted, in how it becomes about Travolta falling in love with both Molly, her son Mikey and becoming a part of their life. Heckerling bases the film and most of it’s comedy on the notion that Mikey and all babies has a adult cynical thoughts on everything that goes on around him, from conception to end credits. Mikey’s thoughts, embryonic wisecracks and creative interpretations are heard only by the audience via the aptly cast voice of tv star turned action star Bruce Willis.
Amy Heckerling had first pitched the movie to Disney, but Disney CEO Michael Eisner felt that it was too sexual for them even for their more mature, Touchstone Pictures banner. Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, Orion Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios also all passed on it. Ultimately it found a home at TriStar Pictures (owned by Sony) who liked the script and green lit the film with a $7 million budget.
Amy Heckerling takes a clever idea and translates it superbly. While the voiceover idea really isn’t necessary, it still works well because Heckerling uses the device for all it’s worth, with Bruce Willis’s voice as a sperm, a fetus, and as baby Mikey. Willis was always great at a sarcastic delivery, which makes Willis the ideal voice for the part. With the films PG-13 rating, Amy Heckerling has stated that Bruce Willis had improvised voice over takes that would have given the film an R rating.
However Willis was not the original choice, as Robin Williams was the strongest candidate considered for the voice of Mikey. But Robin Williams agent wanted too much money, which was double of the film’s production budget. Other comic actors such as: Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin, and John Candy were considered for the voice of Mikey. But all of them were busy. Chevy Chase was busy doing “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, while Murray and Aykroyd were doing “Ghostbusters II”, Steve Martin was shooting “Parenthood” and John Candy was doing “Uncle Buck”.
1994’s “Pulp Fiction” has been widely considered as John Travolta’s mainstream comeback. In actuality “Look Who’s Talking” was his first commercially successful film following a series of critical and commercial failures. Beginning with 1978’s “Moment by Moment” and would continue throughout the 1980’s with “Blow Out” (1981), “Two of a Kind” (1983), “Staying Alive” (1983), “Perfect” (1985) and “The Experts” (1989). Because of all of the critical and commercial failures of those films, studios and directors were reluctant to hire him as they felt he was a “has been”.
Because of his box office reputation, John Stamos was the first choice for the role of James. But the producers of “Full House” wouldn’t let him out of his contract to take on the role. Instead Michael Keaton, Mel Gibson, Jeff Goldblum, and Griffin Dunne (“An American Werewolf In London”) were considered for the role of James, before Travolta was casted.
Travolta has said that this was the only time, after watching a premiere of his, that he knew he was going to be in a major hit. Travolta demonstrates, 12 years after his breakout film “Saturday Night Fever”, that he is a warm and winning actor when he’s not shoe horned into the wrong roles. Of all the roles he’s played, John Travolta said the character he plays in this film is the most like his real personality.
While John Travolta was making a comeback after appearing in several disappointments. Kirstie Alley had a tougher time setting the world on fire in finding successful film roles other than “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan”, “Summer School” and “Runaway” opposite Tom Selleck.
Actress Geena Davis was considered for the role of Molly. But Davis turned it down, because she couldn’t handle shooting a movie involving a birth sequence, especially with her birth sequence in 1986’s “The Fly”. Kirstie Alley had found the kind of role she had been looking for. It’s a role that lets us see the person who Kirstie always was, beneath all those hours of TV screen time on “Cheers”. According to Kirstie Alley in her memoir, she fell in love with John Travolta during filming, but she stayed faithful to her husband.
And then there is Jason Schaller who plays Mikey, who’s only film role was in “Look Who’s Talking”. Schaller who is now a 6ft 2’ dad with three kids of his own now and works at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He’s a trained singer, actor and dancer and appears in TV ads from time to time.
“Look Who’s Talking” was a huge hit, opening at number one in the United States in its opening weekend and staying at number one for five weekends with grosses over $10 million each weekend. It eventually grossed a worldwide total of $296 million, making it Travolta’s most successful film in eleven years since “Grease” and the fourth highest grossing movie of 1989.
Due to it’s success, a short-run TV series based on the film, aired between 1991-1992 under the title “Baby Talk” starring Scott Biao and Tony Danza as the voice of Mickey. George Clooney also had a small role on the series and has mentioned it was the quickest exit he ever took filming anything. The film’s success led to having the film spawn two sequels. Amy Heckerling returned to write and direct, The just as good as the original sequel titled “Look Who’s Talking Too” in 1990. Heckerling did not return for 1993’s less superior sequel “Look Who’s Talking Now”. Both films had John Travolta and Kirstie Alley returning to their roles as a married couple.
On April 6, 2010, it was reported that producer Neal Mortiz is planning to reboot the film series, this time with the Mikey character now grown up and the father of his own baby in the film. In July 2019, Screen Gems announced that director Jeremy Garelick (“The Wedding Ringer”) was writing the script and directing for the reboot. Hopefully this doesn’t happen.
It’s a real charmer that stands as the second best “baby pictures” of the 80’s right behind “Three Men and A Baby”. It is full of good feels, and director Amy Heckerling finds a light touch for her lightweight material. She has a keen sense of visual comedy, sharp editing, a breezy fast pace. Heckerling’s film and screenplay is a hyperkinetic and uniquely precocious little comedy that makes the best of and is certainly the big highlight of Amy Heckerling, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley’s careers. Like baby Mikey, this film is charming and irresistible even thirty years later.