The Back-up Plan (CBS Films)
While watching The Back-up Plan, I could not help but think of the millions of women across the globe struggling with infertility issues who turn to artificial insemination as a means of potentially conceiving a child. This is a matter that, regardless of the circumstances, must be addressed with some sense of gravity—a topic that begs for a darkly comedic approach should it be approached through comedy at all.
In The Back-up Plan, J. Lo hoists her legs above her head and frets over the unkemptness of her toenails. After receiving her donor seed and joking with her doctor about her cervix, she floats outside to twirl in the rain.
She plays Zoe, a successful pet store owner who decides it’s high time she began a family of her own, even though she has yet to find Mr. Right. But Mr. Right be damned in the 21st century! This is a woman’s world now!
As rom-com logic dictates, she encounters Mr. Right mere moments after the insemination procedure in a bafflingly insipid flirty-spat over a taxicab. He is Stan, a deliriously buff cheese connoisseur, played by cursed CBS primetime star Alex O’Loughlin like a marble statue just learning to speak.
Stan displays no fewer than six clear-cut signs of being a serial rapist. Zoe falls head over heels.
She faces a polygonal dilemma: should she concentrate her energies on pursuing this new love interest or on ensuring the health of the life growing inside her? Could she possibly do both? If she reveals that she has a bun in the oven by way of some stranger’s man-butter, is there any chance that Stan will stick around?
Thankfully, abortion is never directly considered. (It would have been a special sort of horrifying to watch J. Lo pursing her lips and swiveling her head as she pondered whether to terminate her pregnancy.) Even so, the fact that Zoe does not clearly designate top priority to her unborn child is unsettling, and that she so quickly second guesses her pursuit of motherhood is downright irresponsible.
Zoe and Stan move just as quickly: from the taxicab to a handful of coincidental encounters, to a dinner date, to a weekend at Stan’s farm outside of the city. She waits for the most tragically inappropriate time imaginable to inform him of her pregnancy, but even that proves not to be too much too soon for him.
There are serious ramifications to consider here, but The Back-up Plan finds no need to be so discerning. It gives these complicated issues about as much thought as “paper or plastic?” in the checkout lane and wraps the entire scenario in a big, fat romantic comedy bow.
When Zoe, distracted by a shirtless Stan riding on a tractor, drives her car into a tree, she gets out to examine her bumper but displays no concern for her growing baby bump. Sipping on wine or having coffee with breakfast, she worries about the state of her relationship and not once the fragile regulatory mechanism of the placental barrier.
Zoe joins a support group for expectant single mothers that is more like a new-age cult of doughy, awkward types embracing hippie logic. This whole single mother gig—this whole independent woman thing—is clearly for some alien species. God forbid Zoe’s full body pillow (her only means for bedtime comfort) should impede Stan from getting some action from his exhausted, pregnant girlfriend. Out the window and into the dumpster it goes!
As her pregnant belly grows, Zoe loses all sense of grace as well as any hint of once possessing manners. She sits up in bed to burp while chomping down on fast food. Stan can hardly contain his disgust when Zoe climbs on top of him. “You have a piece of chicken in your hair,” he advises. It’s more than enough of a mood-killer for him, if there was any mood to begin with. Pregnant women sure are gross!
Of course, Jennifer Lopez herself remains a vision, displaying no signs of pregnancy anywhere but her abdomen. In what may be a “meta” moment (Ms. Lopez gave birth to twins about two years ago), Zoe bemoans the destruction pregnancy hath wrought unto the shapeliness of her rear-end.
Given the source and the bountiful, objective physical evidence provided throughout the film, her gripe could not be less convincing. I’d give J. Lo some credit for playing this scene without wearing very much makeup, but then she opens her mouth to drink through a McFlurry spoon.
The film tends to frame its events in a bubbly, sunny glow, but there are a few strong strokes of darker, more cynical humor. Not only do we get to witness J. Lo peeing on a pregnancy test stick, but we see (and hear) her experience an estrogen-boosted, extremely premature orgasm in the middle of a cheese barn.
Zoe’s friend and workout buddy Mona (former and brief SNL cast member Michaela Watkins) is a wicked highlight in her unapologetic disdain for her own children. A bizarre, ritualistic water birth depicted in a later scene isn’t exactly a treat, but it’s refreshingly unexpected in this type of movie.
Still, The Back-up Plan sticks much too closely to rom-com convention to feel refreshing in any substantial way, and even its primary conceit—the whole bit about Zoe being artificially inseminated, then falling in love, then working though a relationship with someone who has no relation to her unborn child—the entire predicament is essentially ignored during most of the film.
What remains is the oft-told tale of two people preparing to raise a child together. The added twist emerges mostly to give our central couple a reason to bicker, but the film otherwise has little to offer that is new.
Jennifer Lopez, a.k.a. J. Lo, a.k.a. Mrs. Marc Anthony, could have done a lot worse for her return to cinema. I’d say it’s nice to see her back… in movies. She actually has one of the most plump and powerful… sour-grapes faces in the business. Hers might just be her best ass—asset… her best asset. (Okay, maybe her second best.)
Directed by Alan Poul. Written by Kate Angelo.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language. (Ed Note: Not meaning to be the moral police of late, but I was shocked this wasn’t rated R.)
Runtime is 1 hour, 46 minutes.