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The Back-up Plan Review

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by Casimir Harlow Oct 10, 2010

    The Back-up Plan Review
    Do you remember Out of Sight? That George Clooney/Jennifer Lopez crime drama based on the excellent works of Elmore Leonard (who also wrote Get Shorty), and directed by Steven Soderbergh (the man behind Che and the Ocean’s Trilogy). It’s one of my favourite movies, with Clooney on absolute top form. And, do you know what? Jennifer Lopez isn’t half bad in it. She’s suitably sexy, sassy and the pair of them exhibit some of the best on-screen chemistry I’ve ever seen. Never one to question the power of that ass, other than Out of Sight, I have never really rated Lopez – neither her pop music, nor her rather odd film career. But, based on that one performance, I’ve always been happy to give her another chance.
    Unfortunately, for the last decade or so, she has become one of those interchangeable actresses who star in lacklustre, cheap, predictable and generic romantic comedies – standing alongside Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker and Friends’ Jennifer Aniston as the go-to girls for this kind of trash. Seriously, from a male point-of-view, I like a good, no-brainer action movie as much as the next guy, so I can see why (some) female filmgoers want an equivalent, but – just like I know that many of those action movies are not exactly great movies, in any sense of the word – surely most viewers can appreciate that the same thing applies to the likes of The Wedding Planner, The Bounty Hunter and Did you hear about the Morgans? And with Jennifer Aniston doing her own take on sperm-donor themed rom-coms (The Switch), do we really need another J.Lo flick about the same damn subject?
    Zoe’s at that age where she needs to seriously consider getting pregnant – before it’s too late! Since she’s had very little luck with men, she’s decided to go down the artificial insemination route, but ten seconds after her first batch of the ‘treatment’ and she bumps into a man who catches her eye. After a couple more chance encounters, they go on a date, and Stan – the man – goes all-out on proving how much he thinks she’s ‘the one’. They totally hit it off, but fate has it that, after just a single run at artificial insemination, Zoe is pregnant. Will she tell Stan – and risk ruining a potentially beautiful relationship with, what could be, the man of her dreams?
    J-Lo has fallen a long way in her fifteen years of fame, The Back-up Plan marking one of the worst movies that I have seen her in – and one of the most tired, phoned-in performances she has given. Partnering her up with Whiteout’s Alex O’Loughlin wasn’t exactly a great idea either. Seven years younger than her (and visibly so), he tries his best to seem enthusiastic, but there just isn’t any spark here – and that is mostly thanks to Lopez. Honestly, for a 41-year-old woman in the part of an ageing single woman who desperately wants to have a baby (i.e. the character must be late thirties at least), she dresses like she still thinks she’s in her late twenties. And she doesn’t pull it off at all. This is the woman who epitomised sexy and sultry in Out of Sight and U-Turn, how come she has forgotten how to be elegantly beautiful? Are the latest fashion trends really that vital to a movie like this? Even a mildly amusing cameo from Anthony ‘Exit Wounds’ Anderson can’t pull this out of the ‘car crash waiting to happen’ path it is on.
    Of course it does not help that almost all of the ‘humour’ is derived from smart-alec comments by a ridiculously arrogant male counterpart, sassy remarks from our leading lady, or total gross-out humour surrounding pregnancy. Oh, was I supposed to be laughing when Zoe goes to visit a bunch of staunchly anti-men (and stereotypically tattoo-wearing lesbian) single moms and tries to embrace their ideals?! Sorry, I forgot. And, no, it’s not funny that one of the mothers is still breast-feeding her three year-old daughter! Without chemistry for the romance angle, or material for decent jokes, what hope was there with this project?
    Utterly predictable, saccharin-loaded, with an uninspired script, clichéd characters, lacklustre performances, zero chemistry and jokes largely based on gross-out pregnancy-related stereotypes – that just about sums up Lopez’s The Back-up Plan. Now none of those should come as any particular surprise to anybody who has ever watched a single movie in this generic rom-with-a-hint-of-com genre. And at least those who want another throwaway entry, so that they can gorge on ice-cream whilst watching it, will not be disappointed. Actually, I’m not surprised that this is a pretty dire movie – and neither should anybody be when they go and see it. No, my real gripe with this otherwise reliably poor movie is its message. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – this film has a message?!? Well, yes, unfortunately it does.
    So – and I’m going to get on my soap-box now – the modern generation of women is split largely into two – those who get pregnant too early, and those that wait (almost) too late. Of course I’m generalising – but you get the point. We have too many teenage single mums (and too many Reality TV shows about them too!) who are often living off the successes of those who have progressed their careers, via the whole tax/benefits system (don’t get me started!). Conversely, there are too many women out there who, after fighting so hard to earn the right to be as successful as men, now enjoy that right a little bit too much, and lose sight of the fact that – at some point – they may want to have a baby. When is the right time? When do you have enough money? When is your relationship secure enough? Two years into a marriage? Five? With people getting married later and later (or, perfectly understandably, not at all) the whole timescale gets thrown out of the window. After a decade of putting your career first it might indeed be very hard to ‘meet the right guy’, ‘the one’ or whatever else you would like to call them.
    Rather than addressing this problem within society – a problem which is only going to escalate – we get movies like this, which not only condone the notion of ignoring the realities of your ticking body clock until it is almost too late, but actually preach that miracles can happen despite the fact that it defies all logic. Really? You just got pregnant via artificial insemination and then met the man of your dreams? What, and you know this after knowing him for about 35 seconds? And, magically, despite only having known each other for 35 seconds, he’s cool with your having another (albeit unknown) man’s baby? In some proto-feminist’s wildest dreams this may well be a possibility. But in the real world, no. It’s like winning the lottery. Sure, there’s a chance it might happen to you. But there’s a stronger chance of getting hit by a car walking out from the shop after buying the ticket.
    And it doesn’t help that the timescale just doesn’t work in this movie. Perhaps if they had spent more time developing their relationship it would have been more realistic (honestly, it doesn’t have to be very realistic in this kind of movie, but it can’t be a total fantasy either!). Unfortunately, half of the reason why they don’t spend more time developing the relationship is because there is no more time – bam! She’s pregnant! Unless she didn’t figure it out for a couple of months, there was never going to be any time to get a relationship off the ground. Even if you, like J-Lo’s Zoe, literally walk out of the clinic to bump into the man of your dreams, it still takes time to hit it off. And, after just one date, how could this possibly work out well? I don’t care how much fun the date was, how much you ‘click’, no mid-thirties guy is going to be ‘cool’ with a pushing-forty woman turning around after one date and saying, oh, by the way, I got pregnant before we met. That is not going to end well.
    Even had the material been handled in a more realistic fashion, as in the hilarious Knocked Up (where an unexpected pregnancy forces two single people to try and make their relationship work during those ticking bomb 9 months), it probably could not have been all that convincing. And in the dangerous hands of rom(with-a-bit-of-com) specialists, we get a massively fantastical, pro-feminist message about it being ok to ‘put off’ having children until you’re nearly 40. Don’t worry, you can always have artificial insemination. Worried that will prevent you from finding the right man? Don’t worry, if he’s the right man, he’ll understand the reasons why you’re already pregnant. Oh, give me a break!
    J-Lo’s The Back-up Plan isn’t just a case of predictable, cheesy Hollywood romantic drivel, it actually takes things a step further and wanders into dangerous territory, sending unwelcome signals which – in an already slightly out-of-control modern society – we really don’t need. I know that people may find themselves in this kind of a situation, but dreaming up some kind of a miracle fairytale ending seems just plain wrong. Surely we need to address the issues that caused this in the first place? And whilst I know Lopez can act, if given half the chance, picking roles like this is a bad plan. Still, considering the Box Office and Home Entertainment sales we all know why she, and Jennifer Aniston, and Sarah Jessica Parker, keep making these movies.