Film Review: The Back-up Plan

Nothing to see for anyone who's already viewed their fair share of formulaic romantic comedies.

I’d like to give The Back-up Plan credit for one thing—coming up with a convincing obstacle to a relationship, the great challenge of a modern romantic comedy. Dating one man while pregnant with another’s could be that story. But because the script is so formulaic and the characters so broadly drawn, even the pregnancy of its leading lady isn’t presented as a convincing obstacle. Instead, the guy willingly accepts her pregnancy (after a one-scene hesitation), and the obstacle reverts back to Jennifer Lopez being “blind” and not trusting enough to accept that this guy will stay with her through her bodily changes.

Zoe (Lopez) is a corporate employee-turned-pet store owner who decides to become a single mom, courtesy of a sperm donor. Upon leaving the doctor’s office, she has a “meet-cute” with Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) when he gets into the same taxi as her. Any suspicions of romance are confirmed when we learn that Stan mans a stand at a farmer’s market, hawking the goat cheese he makes at his farm upstate. Only people in romantic comedies have such adorable professions. Did I mention he’s going to night school to open a sustainable, local food store, where everything they sell is grown within 30 miles?

After a few delayed sputters, Zoe reveals she is pregnant and once Stan digests the information, he agrees to stay with her. Both Zoe and Stan have supporting-actor friends (Michaela Watkins, Anthony Anderson) who regale them with stories about the hardships and grossness of being a parent. True to romantic-comedy form, they have some of the best one-liners. Watkins’ thick sarcasm, summed up with statements like “I hate my kids,” lends the only edge to the tale.

Pregnancy offers so many opportunities for humor, but few of them are mined. The single-moms support group Zoe joins is predictably hippy-dippy, with three-year-olds breastfeeding and a water-birth scene distinguished by the tortured facial expressions of the mother. These characters could have gotten huge laughs had the dialogue accurately represented the women without reducing them to unrealistic, unfunny caricatures. Screenwriter Kate Angelo (“Will & Grace”) could have taken a note from the divorced-women’s support group in Jerry Maguire, which memorably aped self-help speak. The entire film lacks the detailed humor that made the observant pregnancy comedy Knocked Up so funny.

It’s a sad day when the most laugh-out-loud moments of a romantic comedy come from bodily-function jokes. They succeed because they are presented as a nonchalant grossout challenge—“You want to have a baby? Well, you better get used to [gross thing] because it’s just how it is.” Unfortunately, the filmmakers can’t seem to make anything beyond the lowest common denominator work for laughs. Anyone interested in pregnancy oversharing would probably be better off headed to YouTube instead of their local theatre.

The Back-up Plan is showing the most interest among females under 25, who still haven’t gotten their fill of these formulaic tales. They will appreciate that the pacing is fast enough to avoid seat wriggling, and that there are few moments bad enough to elicit groans (thank the actors for that). But this romantic comedy has nothing to offer anyone who’s seen a few dozen before.