Aww, c'mon, J-Lo deserves a little love
By Dan Kois
Friday, April 23, 2010
Never let it be said that Jennifer Lopez doesn't give her all. The singer, dancer, actress and perfume magnate has always pursued stardom with shameless abandon, and one of the pleasures of her new movie is watching J-Lo abase herself in the service of her art.
In "The Back-Up Plan," a not-as-bad-as-you-think-it-is romantic comedy directed by Alan Poul, Lopez pries a used pregnancy test out of a dog's mouth, picks pieces of fried chicken out of her hair and has an epiphany in a dumpster. Most unthinkably by Hollywood's standards, she endures the suggestion that she might be nearing menopause.
She isn't, of course! (If she were, she wouldn't be starring in a romantic comedy! She would be playing someone's wacky grandma.) Instead, she plays pregnant Zoe, a pet-shop owner knocked up by her OB-GYN and a baster full of donor sperm.
"This isn't about a guy," she declares early in the movie, asserting her pride in choosing single motherhood -- but, of course, it's a movie, so it is about a guy, Stan, played by Alex O'Loughlin. Zoe and Stan meet in a cab on the Upper West Side, and soon begin to fall for each other. But Zoe, who'd just given up the search for Mr. Right, has to decide whether to stick to her back-up plan -- single motherhood and career -- or take a chance on telling her new beau exactly why it is she's glowing.
It's a tough choice. Not only is Stan sexy and sensitive, but he -- be still my dairy-loving heart -- makes cheese. On his organic goat farm. (By the time Stan and Zoe kissed in a candle-lit cave full of ripening chevres, even my mouth was watering. Although that may have been the chevres.)
But television vet Kate Angelo's screenplay can't imagine any interaction between Zoe and Stan other than stressed-out fighting and blissed-out reconciliation.
If the movie is a little dumb about romance, though, it's surprisingly smart about the perils of 21st-century parenthood. Unlike the previous generation of moms and dads who gave their lives over to their children with good cheer -- or at least stoicism -- contemporary parents' default setting is that of rueful complaint. Zoe's best friend, Mona (Michaela Watkins), is a hard-drinking mother of three who advises Zoe against child-rearing as her children run screaming through the apartment. Meanwhile, nervous Stan receives dismaying advice from a father, played by Anthony Anderson, at a Central Park playground. (In a moment that any parent will recognize, the dad, seeing childless Stan outside the fence, first assumes he's a pervert.) "Being a dad is awful, and then awful, awful, awful, awful, and then amazing, and then awful again," Anderson says, just before his son brings him a surprise from the sandbox.
And the movie's best comedic set piece -- a home birth by a member of Zoe's mothering support group -- does little to advance its romantic story line, but did provoke wild whoops of recognition from the audience at its vision of childbirth as one part magic, 20 parts nightmarish chamber of horrors. "The Back-Up Plan's" blunt honesty about the messiness of pregnancy is refreshing. It's a shame that the movie couldn't find a similarly refreshing way to tell its uninspired love story.
But don't blame J-Lo! She's working so hard that you'll see her sweat (and pee, and vomit, and bleed, and belch). Her fierce commitment to an uneven script is touching, and while you won't find proof that she has become, 13 years into her movie career, a natural actress, it's not hard to like her. And despite a saggy middle and a soggy ending, it's not so hard to like "The Back-Up Plan," either.