Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) is a pleasantly dippy New Yorker who seems to have it all: She has her own business that allows for a flexible schedule. She has good friends who care about her every triumph and travail. And best of all, she has an incredible backside, which gets its due attention. The only thing missing is a man — not so much for date nights, but for insemination.
In The Back-Up Plan, which opens Friday, Zoe finally takes the leap toward motherhood on her own, but meets the man of her dreams just moments after becoming impregnated. As the dreamy Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) sweeps her off her feet, Zoe soon has to fess up, but miraculously, Stan wants to stay with her! That’s right: All the commitment-phobia in this movie belongs to Zoe, who can’t believe that he won’t walk out the door once his voluptuous girlfriend becomes a sexy mom. Still, as their relationship blossoms — and Zoe’s due date creeps closer — there are hurdles to jump, and stumble over, and jump again.
As a vehicle for Lopez and a testing-ground for O’Loughlin’s leading-man potential, The Back-Up Plan is better than it seems at first. There are few basics to accept, such as a pat story line, broad humor that borders on condescending, and changes of heart when it might be too late. Once the fundamentals are set, it’s OK to toss them aside and simply enjoy watching other people’s relationship woes. While the premise is unique, many of the couple’s issues are not: Stan is worried about his lack of professional and financial achievement, particularly because he’s a goat farmer with a handle on how to make cheese, but not much else. Zoe worries that her butt doesn’t look as good as it used to, which allows Lopez to pay unabashed — although, one would hope, decidedly tongue-in-cheek — homage to her own behind, which has been her most-lauded asset since her days as a back-up dancer.
The shameless in-joke, however, points to part of what makes The Back-Up Plan the enjoyably unchallenging movie that it is. Neither Lopez nor O’Louglin takes themselves too seriously and while their characters are having fun, so are they. It appears that most of the film was shot on-set, far away from the real grit of New York City, and the production choice only enhances the film’s overall effect as a polished and predictable ride. The other key component of The Back-Up Plan’s success is that, while undoubtedly made with a female audience in mind, it’s really all about the man. With an easy charm and actual chemistry with J.Lo, O’Loughlin not only proves his chops outside of indie fare and the small screen, while doing justice to the good guys who get the short ends of the stick. Perhaps best of all, his goofy, well-meaning character — who puts up with more than his share of Zoe’s self-centered baggage — is simply more believable than the Prince Charming types often shoved down our throats.
While Stan and Zoe figure things out in Never-Never Land, The Back-Up Plan takes unmistakable aim at single moms in ways that are sometimes funny, but mostly go too far. The film’s other partner-less moms — the real ones, not the honey-dipped Zoes who fall in love with would-be dads — are unattractive, gay or breast-feeding well past infancy. What begins as a potentially empowering message becomes a casualty of societal norms, in which patriarchy and story-book romance rules. In fairness to Zoe, making out with Stan looks like a lot more fun than group share in the single moms’ support group.
Yet despite the misguided jokes, there’s enough gentle humor and approximated tenderness to keep the movie afloat. With the extra-curvy J.Lo at the helm and the hunky O’Loughlin holding his own, The Back-Up Plan is a low-commitment way to get a taste of life’s big plunges, without having to actually take them.