My pregnancy lasted 41 weeks and five days, involved morning, afternoon and night sickness and culminated in 25 hours of labor capped off by an emergency C-section. Yet all that seems like a walk in the park compared with the 100 minutes I spent watching Jennifer Lopez mug her way through The Back-Up Plan, a romantic comedy about single motherhood or mom-rom-com that manages to be both bland and offensive.
Lopez plays Zoe, a pet-store owner whom we are introduced to on the morning she is being artificially inseminated. Zoe plans to be a single mother, but there are signs tipping us off to the unlikelihood of that becoming reality. For one thing, she lives in New York City, where the vast majority of sad cinematic single women are delivered from their tragic manless state by the time the credits roll. For another, her girlish concern that her doctor (the amusing Robert Klein) will be offended by her lack of a fresh pedicure or a waxing suggests she's not exactly a radical freethinker.
As she leaves the doctor's office, the only question is how long it will take for a man to wait, there's one trying to steal her cab! His name is Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), and while he's obnoxious and weirdly aggressive, he does in his favor have two legs, two arms and a full head of hair. Plus, he's an artisanal cheesemaker, the 2010 version of a sexy carpenter. With the arrival of this walking fantasy of manhood, presumably Zoe can put aside her nonsensical plan to become a mother on her own.
But screenwriter Kate Angelo (who wrote for TV's Will & Grace and What About Brian) is not done ridiculing the very notion that a woman like Zoe, pretty and with financial means, might willingly become a single mother. Despite having a man in her sights, Zoe joins a group called Single Mothers and Proud, where she is the only rose without obvious thorns. The group includes a rotund earth mother named Carol (Melissa McCarthy), a strident man hater (Maribeth Monroe) and a woman still nursing what appears to be a kindergartner. None of them want to hear Zoe's angst over meeting her dream man on the day she got pregnant in a doctor's office, and who could blame them? These glowering stereotypes might make you chuckle a few times militant-single-mothers groups do exist, and perhaps Angelo visited one as research but there is something truly poisonous in the way they are trotted out as representations of the last thing any attractive, successful woman would want to be.
Certainly it's hard to imagine Lopez joining their earthy ranks. The actress who charmed in The Wedding Planner and held her own with George Clooney in Out of Sight seems to have forgotten everything she ever knew about acting. The best that can be said about her is that she's game for some mortifying on-screen moments. But whether Zoe is having a pelvic exam or a spontaneous screaming orgasm brought on by kissing (supposedly generated by pregnancy hormones, but we're dubious), Lopez always looks more like she's posing for In Style than embodying a real woman. The way Zoe simpers with Stan is unbearable; she's either giving us a little moue or playfully hooking a finger between her teeth like a coquette from silent-screen days. You want her wry best friend Mona (played winningly by Michaela Watkins) to tell her to stop voguing.
As for O'Loughlin, he struggles limply with a character who is supposed to be wildly romantic Stan names a new "sassy and complex" goat cheese after Zoe but also legitimately conflicted about the odd situation he's landed in. They barely know each other, and his resentment of Zoe's emotional and physical disappearance into the throes of pregnancy isn't tempered by a biological father's excitement at meeting his offspring. So Stan whines. When he tosses her pregnancy pillow out the window because she's become more reliant on it than on him, he does not appear to be a man of anyone's dreams.
The movie, though, is too traditional in mind-set not to make him a keeper, rather than letting Zoe descend into the horror of water births surrounded by drum-beating womyn. Ultimately, the message of The Back-Up Plan seems to be, Don't have one because you never know when a semiprize like Stan might come along. (Stan would likely win the endorsement of Lori Gottlieb, the single mother whose authorship of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough suggests she regrets her choice.) This summer, Jennifer Aniston will star in another mom-rom-com, The Switch, about a single woman whose male best friend secretly swaps his own product for her sperm-bank purchase. It's hard not to see that one ending in wedding bells too. You know what would be really contemporary? A movie about a woman who goes to a sperm bank and returns home with a baby not a mate.