In the past decade, it is the rare romantic comedy that rises above the pile of trash that now defines the genre to steal audience’s hearts. Thanks largely to the lovely Jennifer Lopez, the new movie The Backup Plan manages to elicit laughter and even heartfelt emotion from its audience. Lopez, armed with a surprisingly amusing supporting cast, conquers the conventional and heavily unoriginal script and steals the entire film. Inherently likeable, pleasant, and funny, Lopez reminds us just how much we have missed her as she stumbles and charms her way through the film.
The plot is formulaic but proves an interesting counterpart to Lopez’s life over the past few years. She plays Zoe, a middle-aged New York City woman who has given up on finding “the one” and is determined to have a baby. The rest of the movie is filled with “surprising twists” or, as I like to call them, “But waits!” After her artificial insemination, she hails a cab only to have a run in with a mysterious dairy farmer from upstate New York named Stan (Alex O’Loughlin). She decides to take the subway – BUT WAIT – he follows her onto the subway and they proceed to have a lengthy (albeit unbelievable) conversation. When Zoe gets off at her stop, she thinks she’s seen the last of him – BUT WAIT! – she and her friend (Michaela Watkins of Saturday Night Live) stop by a farmers’ market where they find Stan selling his homemade cheese. The two go out for a romantic dinner in a park, but nothing goes as planned. Wine spills, a fire starts, and water sprays, yet they still find themselves in love. The rest of the film is a very predictable rollercoaster ride of emotion, fluctuating between love and hate depending on how severely Zoe’s fear of being let down affects her each day. Needless to say, Zoe and Stan wind up together in the end. How surprising!
The movie shines, however, due in large part to the fantastic Jennifer Lopez. She and Sandra Bullock command a similar respect from audiences, as they both are perceived (Bullock more so these days) as “America’s sweethearts.” Bullock stole America’s heart in Miss Congeniality just as Lopez charmed people everywhere with The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan. Even in her flops (think Gigli and Jersey Girl), Lopez is radiant and delightful. She steals the film right from under her counterpart’s feet.
Honestly, I would have rather seen the film if it was just about her struggles to become a single mom. I could have happily done without the flat, phoned-in performance from O’Loughlin. Give us more J-Lo! The film could have been so much better had it focused on its brilliant supporting cast. The scene with her Single Moms and Proud group gathering around one woman giving birth in an inflatable pool is hands down the most hysterical scene in the movie. Friendly face Anthony Anderson pops up as an advice-wielding savior to Stan. Watkins, as her best friend, delivers some of the funniest lines in the film. Each one of the supporting cast members is underused, whereas O’Loughlin is (understandably) overused. It leaves us wondering how much better the movie could have been if it gave more time to Zoe’s friends and family.
It is a fair assumption to say that the movie was tailored for its star. In fact, it isn’t so much a movie about a fictional woman as it is a vehicle for the real story, the invitation to admire its star’s highly publicized life. There are the obvious comparisons to both her relationship troubles (remember “Bennifer?”) and the birth of Lopez’s twins in 2008. The film has some gratuitous shots of her svelte and toned body, working out at the gym and trying on a bathing suit. These scenes advertise the amazing shape that Lopez was in just weeks after giving birth. As the movie progresses, we essentially see her reliving her own pregnancy, still managing to look gorgeous. It seems like a calculated move, and it works. The audience loves her and they really always have. We could just use a better vehicle for her, but instead, we wind up stuck with her very own backup plan.