I’m trying my best to understand the romantic comedy. Since January I (and by extension, anyone else who went to the theatre and bought tickets) have been punished by a series of clichéd, hackneyed, tired, worn-out, stale, pedestrian, corny, banal, unoriginal… well, you get the idea… rom coms with titles like “Leap Year,” “When in Rome” and “The Bounty Hunter.” The latest one to come down the pike is “The Back Up Plan,” a movie that begs the question: When do romantic comedy traditions stop being funny, or romantic and become clichés?
Set in NYC (as all great rom coms are) but mostly shot in LA (I guess New York was busy that day) the Rom Com Script Generator ™ gives us Zoe, (Jennifer Lopez), a well-to-do, thirty-something pet store owner with a good apartment, a cute dog and a clothing budget that would bankrupt Ivanka Trump. What she doesn’t have is a child. With no husband or suitable boyfriend in the picture she turns to a fertility clinic but wouldn’t you know it, on the very day that sperm sample CRO104 becomes the baby daddy she meets the man of her dreams in the most NYC of ways—when he tries to scoop her cab. He’s Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) an eco friendly goat cheese vendor with a sculpted torso and a winning smile. She becomes his girlfriend and cheese muse, he becomes the de facto father to the child growing in her belly. They fall in love, fight, get back together again and rinse and repeat.
Structurally “The Back Up Plan” is so by-the-book it seems to transcend formula and almost work its way into heartfelt homage. By adhering so closely to the tried-and-true rom com playbook—unlikely couple meets, falls in love, breaks up and (SPOILER! but only if you’ve never seen a romantic comedy!) gets back to together—it becomes the latest entry in Hollywood’s ongoing exercise in seeing how many ways the same story can be slightly reshaped, recycled and recast before audiences revolt.
Not that “The Back Up Plan” is the worst of the crop. It may share a story skeleton with several other recent films, but nothing plumbs the depths of “Leap Year,” a film so bad even its star Matthew Goode has released a statement urging audiences not to see it. It’s even better than “The Bounty Hunter” but despite a few genuinely funny moments—a group for single mothers, or women without “penis partners” is a highpoint—it relies on the usual mix of slapstick and romance (often in the same scene) and does neither of them very convincingly.
It’s the kind of movie set in pregnant lady land where women are unable control their cravings and the Rom Com Script Generator ™ spits out dreaded exchanges like: “You’re not making any sense.” “No, all of a sudden everything makes sense.” It’s not that it’s bad exactly, it’s just that we’ve seen it all before.