When the alarm on a woman's biological clock starts ringing, no snooze button on earth can truly turn the thing off.
Just ask Zoe. Sure, some folks might assume that she already owns everything the average Manhattanite could want: a comfortable apartment, a thriving business, the looks of Jennifer Lopez. But Zoe feels like something's missing … something small and warm and burpy.
No, no. We're not talking about a Boston terrier. She already has one of those. She wants a baby. And since she's not in a relationship, she sets up a date with a fertility specialist and a vial of sperm.
Wouldn't you know it, the day—nay, the very hour—after her first clinical rendezvous, Zoe runs into Stan, a hunk-a-hunk-a-hunky cheese farmer from upstate. Edam! Zoe exclaims to herself. He's just too gouda to be true! But too true he is, just like a nice, ripe feta, and it's not long before they're going on picture-perfect dates, spending long weekends on the cheese farm and falling in love.
Oh, yeah, and growing a baby, too.
When Stan first finds out, he sours a bit on the whole relationship. But not wanting to be a curd, he decides to stick around, molding true love out of an unusual baby-makes-three arrangement.
Which leaves us with just one question: If it's a boy, will they name him Colby?
We don't see Zoe interact much with children, even after she has them. (She delivers twins.) But we do know that she dotes on her dog—supplying the canine (whose back legs don't work) with special carts so he can walk/wheel himself around. And not once considering abortion as an option—even when Stan goes a little green at the thought of having kids—her yen for them is nice, so far as it goes.
But the real hero here is Stan. Once he comes to grips with the fact that kids are on their way, he does everything he can to support his ever-expanding sweetie—dealing with her cravings, her neuroses and, for a time, even her omnipresent full-body pillow. He contracts a custom-made stroller and manfully breeches the great unknown with a sense of understated sacrifice and humor.
When Zoe asks him why he would want to deal with her children, he answers, "Because I love their mommy—and what I want more than anything else in the world is to be their daddy."
Cheesy? Naturally. But admirably so—as is the fact that the two eventually marry.
When Stan and Zoe gather to watch one of Zoe's friends give birth, they find the place filled with women pounding on drums and chanting in a vaguely Native American/New Age sort of way. Zoe believes it's lucky to pick up a penny—but only if it's showing "heads."
Here's where this review takes a sharp downward turn. Zoe and Stan wait until their third date to have sex—hardly laudable self-control. And once they've started, they don't stop.
We hear from Mona, Zoe's friend, that because Zoe's pregnant, her body's particularly sensitive and she's apt to be particularly orgasmic. And so we're soon exposed to a scene in which Zoe climaxes during the early stages of foreplay. During intercourse, she has three or four orgasms. Stan rips open Zoe's dress on one occasion, and we see her bare back.
Zoe examines her nearly naked self in the mirror. (We see a brief glimpse of her thong-clad backside.) She tells Stan how much better her rear used to look—offering him pictures to illustrate. She wears some tight-fitting outfits with plunging necklines. For his part, Stan often wears no shirt at all, and the film treats him very much as a sex object—more so even than J.Lo's Zoe.
Beyond all the shown and talked-about orgasms, there's all sorts of conversation about pre- and post-baby vaginal conditions, nipples, "penis partners," pubic hair, sperm, sexual habits and rapid-fire serial monogamy.
The camera watches as a woman breast-feeds her 3-year-old girl. And there's a bit of explicit content related to pregnancy itself. We first meet Zoe in her fertility doctor's office where the camera doesn't blink very often during her insemination. A later appointment includes a vaginal ultrasound and a doctor who repeats the word vagina many, many times to make Stan uncomfortable.
We see one of Zoe's friends give birth in a tub of water. Shots include her pubic region.
Zoe crashes into a tree with her SUV. One woman, in the throes of delivery, threatens Zoe with bodily injury, clawing at her.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and about 20 s-words are mixed in with "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "douche bag." God's name is misused more than a dozen times (once with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' name is abused twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Zoe drinks wine and champagne—but not when she knows she's pregnant. Others drink those intoxicants, too, along with beer.
Other Negative Elements
Mona, a mother of four, tries to dissuade Zoe from having a baby, telling her that kids are "awful" and "I hate them." A playground father echoes this to Stan, telling him that fatherhood is "awful, awful, awful … and then something beautiful happens … and then it's awful, awful." When Stan notices that one of this unnamed dad's children is eating sand, the man says, "By the time you get to the third one, you don't worry about that stuff." Later, a child carries over a piece of poop for his dad to inspect, and the father merely asks him whether it's from a cat or from him or from some other undetermined source.
Zoe and Stan both initially keep information from each other (Zoe her pregnancy, Stan the fact that he's going to night school). We see both Zoe and her dog throw up. Mona talks about the effect pregnancy had on her bladder. We see Zoe sit on the toilet and hear her urinate as she's taking a pregnancy test. During Zoe's friend's birthing scene, fishing out excrement is played for laughs.
"Some things can last forever," Stan tells Zoe. He's trying to reassure her that one of those things is their love for each other—that he'll never leave her no matter how much she may believe he has no reason to stay.
So they've got that going for them.
But then there are things that simply seem to last forever. Like, for instance, this film. The Back-up Plan was supposed to be, I think, an update of a classic romance—one that starts out with having kids, rather than ending there. It culminates in engagement and, apparently, true love. Along the way, it studiously avoids all that old-fashioned traditionalism seen in romances of yesteryear.
But I still believe in love, marriage and family, in that order. You might too. And partly because of that, The Back-up Plan didn't much resonate with me. And it strikes me that it may actually do some harm.
While the premise of the romance centers on the desire to have children and the unstated belief that acquiring them will bring happiness, most of what we actually hear about kids is negative. They put dinner on their heads. They play with unfamiliar feces. They're "awful." They're "horrid."
Zoe, while she desperately wants children, seems to see them not as sacred responsibilities, but rather accoutrements. She's obsessed with their clothes, consumed with their strollers. And when asked why she wants kids, she says she doesn't want to be alone.
So The Back-up Plan is about Zoe and Stan and their love for one another. The children, rather than being the film's ultimate gift, are its reoccurring obstacle. And as those twins were born, I couldn't help but think that they'd better grow up pretty quickly—just in case their parents get bored with them.
Perhaps I'm not giving due credit. After all, we do see Stan reading a bedtime story to them before tucking them in at night. Few of us, when we become parents, are truly ready. It's hard to grasp the joys, the trials and somber responsibilities that come with parenthood, and most of us learn along the way. So I should probably be more forgiving when it comes to Zoe and Stan.
But if this film has some sweetness to it, the content it displays is as sour as a hunk of gorgonzola left in the sun for six weeks. And that makes me a bit cranky. Its foul language and frank sexuality spoil whatever meager charms it might've offered.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jennifer Lopez as Zoe; Alex O'Loughlin as Stan; Michaela Watkins as Mona; Anthony Anderson as Playground Dad; Linda Lavin as Nana
April 23, 2010
Paul Asay Paul Asay