Now J-Lo Is America’s Cheese Muse. Thanks, “The Back-Up Plan”

 Now J-Lo Is America's Cheese Muse. Thanks, "The Back-Up Plan"

The premise alone might induce morning-after sickness: Jennifer Lopez plays a single Manhattanite who wants to get pregnant without waiting any longer to meet Mr. Right. So she gets pregnant. Then she meets Mr. Right. Ruh roh!

Here is what we know about Zoe. She lost her parents at a young age. She used to work in the corporate world, but now owns a pet store, which she has staffed with prodding protective friends who otherwise lack any personality. She has a shrieky best pal, played by Michaela Watkins, who is a mother of several small children and advocates against motherhood, generally, by saying things like, “I will show you my vagina.” And she has her Nana, played by Linda Lavin, who has unwittingly set an example of commitment-phobia that Zoe must learn to transcend.

Here is what we know about Stan. He had a cheating wife once. Otherwise, he’s available. He is played by Alex O’Loughlin, as a strapping goat farmer with a dream of starting his own sustainable cheese shop.

The movie itself is a cheese shop, of course, and it is not sustainable. Its plan to dispatch all the hackneyed rom-com courtship conflicts and pregnancy plot points simultaneously must once have struck someone as shrewdly efficient, but ultimately it is not in a good way that “The Back-Up Plan” makes an hour and a half of screen time start to feel like nine very long months.

Is it inherently too much to ask? A love connection begun by two strangers slipping concurrently into the same cab, one of them just having been artificially inseminated? The animated opening title sequence, which looks like M. Sasek by way of disposable women’s magazine, pitches a plausible situational fusion of classic and contemporary. But then the movie proceeds to pander, and never lets up.

Positioning his comely stars among such pitiably cute accessories as a wheelchair-bound Boston Terrier, an enfeebled Tom Bosley, and an oh-so-wacky single mothers support group, director Alan Poul exerts just enough control to ensure that sitcom stalwart Kate Angelo’s script never surrenders its shrill contrivance. Poul presides confidently over this glossy and moneyed production, dishing up the requisite soundtrack full of orchestral rom-com pizzicato and twee heartache pop.

He also goes so far as to supply a cozy cellar scene in which Zoe has occasion to ask, ”So what are you saying, I’m your cheese muse?” And later, a cozy bedroom scene in which Stan has occasion to ask, “Why do you have a picture of your ass?” This is how the movie pretends not to take itself too seriously, and it’s a useful gesture inasmuch as it reminds us that the way to transcend banality definitely is not by passing vanity off as humility.

Early on, “The Back-Up Plan” was called “Plan B.” It would seem that access to emergency contraception is now more important than ever.

Jonathan Kiefer lives in San Francisco. ...read more

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