“It’s stubborn, overly-paranoid, and distrustful of men”
Over the years Jennifer Lopez has been involved in some good films. I’m talking Out of Sight, U-Turn, and The Cell—movies that have a dark edge to them and stay far, far away from the romantic comedy genre she so readily takes roles for. So, let’s just say I had zero expectations going into her newest entry and CBS Films’ sophomore effort The Back-up Plan. I’ll admit to wanting to be anywhere else but in that theatre, anticipating a horrible affair that would fall completely flat. However, after a nice little credit sequence with charmingly crude hand-drawn animation, I began to realize I was laughing. Granted, the audience composed of mostly women who have probably gone through pregnancy were much more vocal in this respect, but the fact I began to warm up to the characters and their stories has to count for something.
For all intents and purposes, this is a generic rom-com dealing with boy meet girl, love is found and then torn apart, and eventually the opportunity to start over knowing exactly how much they care for one another rears its head to either be taken or left behind. But it does have something a little different in its make-up, namely the fact this couple are having a baby together practically on just their third date. The elephant in the room isn’t anyone’s past history—although trust issues do play a role—but, instead, the artificially inseminated bun in the oven. I seriously do think this change-up in the relationship dynamic is exactly what made it interesting enough for me to get invested. Sure, some of the fights they have and anxieties are trivial, but oftentimes it is the pressure they are unintentionally putting on each other as well as knowingly on themselves causing strife. Here is a successful businesswoman looking to begin a new chapter in her life—willing to do it alone—and along comes a man that has lived a charmed life, but who is just getting around to college and unsure if children are in his future.
These two characters are therefore more complex than just sexual beings that will inevitably fall for each other and live happily ever after. That cliché is still here, don’t get me wrong, but the fact both understand very early on what is at stake in the relationship, we as an audience are able to skip over all the surface snags and delve right into the psychological motivations and hindrances, as well as the changing mood swings and rocky months leading up to the birth. Lopez is actually quite effective, bringing a good mix of feminine vulnerability and strong-willed woman ready to conquer the world. You constantly see that no matter how involved her Zoe gets with Stan, the baby is first and foremost on her mind. Yes, she can use it as an excuse to keep the boyfriend at arm’s length, but there is something refreshing in an authentic feeling, successful woman who is down to earth and owns a pet shop. This isn’t some television personality or high-pressured attorney, she is the kind of girl you can meet at a farmers’ market or in a cab—much like is done here. And, as far as Stan goes, Alex O’Loughlin is pretty great as the dorkily romantic goat farmer and cheese creator with a keen sense of his own ego. So sure of himself and cocky, his demeanor still remains steeped in compassion and nerves at the situation he finds himself in; it’s a role that easily could have gone too far into caricature, becoming a jerk that you don’t want the heroine to end up with anyway.
As with most in this genre, the love story is never going to be enough to make the film self-sustaining. It’s a comedy, and therefore the romance part can’t go too far or else it become schmaltzy and utterly avoidable for anyone with a Y-chromosome. So, to keep things light and humorous, a cast of eccentrically crazy supporting characters is a must. The Back-up Plan has them in spades from the dry-humored gynecologist unafraid to say ‘vagina’ in order to scare Stan; a handicapped dog in a wheelchair that is prone to falling over sideways; an overtly bubbly Single Moms and Proud group leader played by Melissa McCarthy and her man-hating zealots; a kindred spirit to Stan in Anthony Anderson’s playground father, teaching him the way of raising children—“it’s awful, awful, awful, awful, and then something special happens … and it’s back to awful”; and Zoe’s own best friend (Michaela Watkins) who’s profanity-laced rants about motherhood are well-executed. With all these people coming in and out of their world, you never feel overwhelmed by the romance, knowing some form of comedic relief will soon arrive.
Director Alan Poul has made a career working on some well-received HBO shows and he does shoot this one a bit nicer than most romantic comedies done with uninteresting angles and static two-shots. So one shouldn’t discount a few brilliantly orchestrated sequences to bring some big laughs too. The ‘firsts’ in our lead couple’s relationship, (dinner/sleeping over/etc), are disastrous and ripe for comedy between a fire, a water-hose war, the realization of Zoe’s friend’s joke about horny pregnant women, and the use of a maternity pillow. But the coup de gras is the brilliant birthing sequence of a single and proud mother in a kiddie pool at her apartment. Lopez becomes her focal point and as a result needs to stay in front of the mommy in labor, bringing about some fantastic reaction shots rendered even funnier when O’Loughlin enters the fray. Moments like these are what make a film such as this worthwhile for a guy who’d much rather stay home watching sports on TV. I’m not saying this is a suitable replacement, but I did surprisingly have a good time with it. Just don’t tell anyone I said that.
The Back-up Plan 5/10 | ★ ★
 Alex O’Loughlin (as “Stan”) and Jennifer Lopez (as “Zoe”) in CBS Films’ THE BACK-UP PLAN © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 Michaela Watkins (as Mona) and Jennifer Lopez (as Zoe) in CBS Films’ THE BACK-UP PLAN © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.