Jennifer Lopez Returns to Big Screen in ‘Generic Romantic Comedy’
Because no one in Hollywood ever really goes away, even after death, it’s inevitable that Jennifer Lopez, whose career peaked for a gloriously brief moment around 2002 or so, is staging a comeback. I guess you can call it a “comeback,” though I’m not really sure what she’s coming back to, other than being known for what she wears, who she’s sleeping with and for starring in overhyped movies that rarely make more than a plug nickel. Still, given this era’s ever-decreasing standards for what makes someone a “star,” that’s practically on a par with Meryl Streep. Lopez is attempting to reclaim her celebrity status with the safest, most blandest of films, a romantic comedy whose title actually escaped my mind as I was writing, even though I just saw it on a poster in the subway less than an hour before starting this article. After a few moments of poking around in the dusty corners of my brain, it came back to me: it’s called The Back Up Plan, and given the poster, it doesn’t seem as though the studio releasing it finds it any more memorable than I did.
Looking like it was slapped together by some assistant art director in a hurry to leave for the weekend, it’s such a typically…typical, I suppose, rom-com ad that one hopes for a moment that it could be a sly parody. The 90s era black and hot pink font, the not terribly clever catchphrase, the curiously placed image of a baby hanging upside down like a chandelier, the stellar Photoshopping that has Lopez looking at neither her co-star or the baby hanging over her head but somewhere off to the upper right–if someone was paid more than $100 to design this ad they got away with highway robbery. You could replace Lopez’s head with that of Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, or pretty much any actress between the ages of 25 to 40 and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference. If it was a chick lit novel, it’d be a pair of legs stepping out of a New York City cab.
Without ever hearing of this movie before seeing the ad today, I’m going to take a wild guess at what The Back Up Plan is about. Jennifer Lopez plays a workaholic (or “career woman,” do they still call them that?), who, now in her thirties, discovers that she’s let her job get in the way of the important things in life, such as starting a family. Unlucky in love, however, she decides to skip the whole being in a relationship first thing, choosing instead to just find someone willing to father her child. She finds a suitable sperm donor in the blandly handsome, undoubtably charming Alex O’Loughlin, who appears to have been created in a laboratory with strands of Patrick Dempsey’s DNA.
They spend the first hour or so of the film pretending that this is only a business transaction of sorts, that O’Loughlin’s sole purpose is exchanging fluids with Lopez and then hitting the road so that she can raise the child they conceived by herself. However, it becomes evident, probably during an ultrasound, that there are Real Feelings there, and by the end of the movie, which will almost certainly involve Lopez going into labor at the most inopportune time, say, during a wedding or a business meeting in which everyone around her begins flailing around like Daffy Duck, they’ll be a happy couple with a brand new baby to fuss over.
Here’s the actual plot description, courtesy of the Internet Movie Database:
After years of dating, Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) has decided waiting for the right one is taking too long. Determined to become a mother, she commits to a plan, makes an appointment and decides to go it alone. On the day of her artificial insemination, Zoe meets Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) a man with real possibilities.
Trying to nurture a budding relationship and hide the early signs of pregnancy becomes a comedy of errors for Zoe and creates confusing signals for Stan. When Zoe nervously reveals the reason for her unpredictable behavior, Stan commits fully and says he’s in.
Never before has love seen a courtship where a wild night of sex involves three in a bed–Stan, Zoe and the ever-present massive pregnancy pillow. Or, where date night consists of being the focal point at a near-strangers water birth which does for kiddie pools what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean. The real pregnancy test comes when both of them realize they really dont know each other outside of hormonal chaos and birth preparations. With the nine month clocking ticking, both begin to experience cold feet. Anyone can fall in love, get married and have a baby but doing it backwards in hyper-drive could be proof positive that they were made for each other.
Indeed, never before has pregnancy gotten in the way of sex, except in every other comedy ever made about pregnancy. I hope they’re edgy enough to also include a scene where Lopez cries for no reason while eating ice cream right out of the carton, and one where O’Loughlin looks incredulously at how big her underwear has gotten. Because no one’s had the guts to go there yet, man! Okay, so I was wrong in a few spots. Her leading man is not the father of her child, and it seems that they don’t spend a large portion of the movie acting hostile towards each other in some weak attempt to convince the audience that the script wasn’t written like a game of Mad Libs. However, they merely exchanged one romantic comedy cliche, pretending to dislike each other for no discernible reason, for another, that being someone going to ludicrous means to hide something from a partner when it would be much easier to just tell them the truth up front.
Then, when that cliche is exhausted, they pick up the slack with another one, that of “Pregnancy is so wacky!” The much beloved, and almost equally maligned Juno (full disclosure: I’m one of perhaps four people left in the continental United States who hasn’t seen it yet) seems to have ushered in a revival of pregnancy comedies (or should I say “birthed,” hi-yoooo!). I think of comedies centered around someone’s pregnancy as similar to comedies centered around a wedding–they’re almost always labored (bazinga!), mostly unsuccessful attempts at finding humor in a situation that is not terribly interesting to anyone other than the people to which it’s actually happening.
That’s not to say that pregnancy doesn’t have its funny moments, because it does (though mine seemed to involve such things as vomiting in a Taco Bell parking lot). Nevertheless, the majority of pregnancies are so uneventful that it’s a chore to find enough laughs to keep an hour and a half long movie chugging along. Left with little actual content most filmmakers resort to a checklist of tiresome cliches that few real-life couples about to have a child ever face: hippie childbirth coaches and inept medical staff you wouldn’t let near a litter of puppies, let alone a small human, men who become woozy at the sight of a needle, manufactured conflict that compels the male half of the expectant couple to admit that maybe he’s not ready to be a father after all (occasionally helped along by a swinging bachelor friend who encourages him to shirk his responsibilities), a trip to the hospital that looks like a Ringling Brothers routine. And let’s not forget, the expectant mother invariably gets grotesquely fat, or, by Hollywood standards, gets up as high as a size 10 or so.
But, to be fair, I’m making assumptions based solely on one crappy poster and a poorly written plot description on the IMDB (I’ve been trying to parse what exactly the last sentence means and failing miserably). Let’s watch the extended trailer.
It appears that Jennifer Lopez and her leading man “meet cute” at least three separate times, which may be a new record for a romantic comedy. Set in New York City? Check. Male best friend of indistinct sexuality? Check. Cynical girlfriends? Check. Wacky doctor? Check. Cute dog? Check. Generic pop song on the soundtrack? Check. And that’s before we even get to the “oh, and she’s pregnant” part. Curiously, that’s but a very small part of the trailer. But I’ll be darned if I didn’t see Lopez eating from a carton of ice cream. Come back tomorrow for Friday’s winning lottery numbers.