In Case You Missed It: Babycakes (1989)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Lifetime may not be your first choice, but there’s nothing else on television right now. At least the movie that’s about to air has a couple of people you know in it. Ricki Lake’s been on your radar since Hairspray and she became that cool white girl who could dance. Then you see Craig Scheffer from The Program and a few other B-movies you’ve seen is her co-star. Paul Benedict who played Mr. Bentley on The Jeffersons is her boss. You can deal.

In the first scene, you see her as Grace, the plus-size plain girl, floating aimlessly in a one-piece bathing suit. Something about her near-sad blank expression as she sits on the subway gets you. Perhaps it’s pity. Perhaps it’s recognition. By the time Franki Valli and the Four Seasons begin wailing “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” you settle in and remember that some Lifetime movies really aren’t that bad.

Grace is in her 20s and works as a makeup artist in a mortuary. During her days, she listens to her best friend Keri discuss her various sexual exploits with historical figures – in dreams. Her nights are filled with viewings of dating game shows and whole half gallons of ice cream. Then there is her father Al’s upcoming marriage to Wanda, a woman who thinks she has Grace’s best interests in heart when she tells her that she would be so pretty if she just lost a little weight. Because, hey, she got her man, didn’t she.

No doubt about it, Grace’s life is stalled. She has no ambitions and no hope for herself. That all changes on the subway one night. She spots the most beautiful man she has ever seen. In her mind, he looks like a movie star. All she knows is that he is a conductor. You then begin to figure out just as Grace does that she can take matters into her own hands. She does a little detective work and finds out that his name is Rob and he has a fiancée named Olivia. Still, she decides that she wants Rob.

Much to the behest of Keri and her boss, Grace takes three weeks off from work over the holidays and implements a plan to get Rob’s attention while Olivia is out of town. Her plan comes complete with a makeover and a new mattress. Despite her pessimism and attempts to dissuade Grace, Keri even helps. Grace manages to get Rob’s attention and after a couple of mishaps, she convinces him to go to dinner with her at her father’s home. She wants to show them she can get a date with someone like him. Grace’s new look, new man and new spunky attitude in life does manage to throw Wanda for a loop who still for some reason can’t get it through her head that Grace and Rob are happy.

Grace and Rob end up spending the rest of the day together and Rob has obviously grown to like her. He even asks her if she’d like to ride his motorcycle. Then his coworker shows up. Rob is clearly embarrassed to be seen with Grace. She doesn’t hide her hurt and disappointment when she runs off without a word knowing that he was ashamed to be seen with her. She’s almost home when she sees that Rob has had a change of heart and come back for her. Of course, she vents angrily, but Rob apologizes. He kisses her. They find out that they’ve both only had one lover before in all their lives. The affair begins.

Grace is happy and in love. You become happy for her. You despise Keri who tells her to choose between her and a man she says will be gone when Olivia returns to town. You despise Keri even more when she has a run-in with Olivia and tells her where to find Grace and Rob. Despise is not strong enough a word to explain how you feel when Olivia publicly humiliates Grace and Rob does nothing to help Grace as he leaves with his angry fiancée.

Once again, you see sad-face, nearly catatonic Grace making the motions of something called life. But you also see a small breakthrough. Her benevolently neglectful father shows some concern when his stepdaughters tell him that Grace has thrown away the wedding gift she had given to him and his new wife. Al actually goes to Grace to find out what’s wrong. He apologizes. They talk. Al manages to tell Grace something she needs to hear: her presence in Rob’s life mattered. She touched him. She still doesn’t understand why someone she thought loved her would leave her, but she does have her father’s comfort when cries.

But this isn’t the end for Grace. Her moment of catharsis prompts her to make a few changes. She quits her job at the mortuary. She enrolls in beauty school. She finds the fun clothes and makeup she wore when she began chasing Rob and makes them part of her everyday life. This is the Grace that Rob spots heading to the subway, stops the train for and declares his love for to give Grace the happy ending she deserves.

When the credits roll, you find that you’ve enjoyed the romance, but the romance is not what sticks with you. It’s Grace. You see a woman who finally realized she could make herself happy. She takes initiative with her own life and decides to put her needs and desires above all else. Her motives may have begun with chasing a man, but she sees that she’s the one who will ultimately make her happy in the end. You love her because she doesn’t make the changes everyone else says she needs to make. She knows she can live her life on her own terms. And in the end, she gets exactly what she wants after she stops looking for it. In the end, you find some redemption for the made-for-TV chick flick.