Robert Burns' observation that "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray and leave us not but grief and pain for promised joy" is humorously presented in Alan Poul's film "The Back-up Plan."
Written by Kate Angelo, who writes for such television shows as "Will & Grace" and "The Bernie Mac Show," the humor is obvious while the characters are shallow stereotypes. This makes for a funny if superficial journey into the world of single women who take matters into their own hands and have children through insemination.
The focus of the story is on Zoe (Jennifer Lopez). Appropriate to her name, which mean "life" in Greek, Zoe wants to give life by having a child. But when she reaches her mid-thirties and has not yet found a man to marry, she decides to purchase sperm and have a family on her own. This, she explains to her support group of single mothers, is her "back-up plan." But on the very day she takes this life-changing step, Zoe serendipitously meets the man of her dreams, Stan (Alex O'Loughlin).
Stan is a charming man who is understandably smitten with beautiful Zoe. We soon realize the feeling is mutual. This unexpected love presents a major detour in Zoe's plan. The predictable struggle that they experience is the focus of the film as they must decide whether this "detour" is the "grief and pain" or the "promised joy."
Although this journey has some funny moments, it is the central love affair of Zoe and Stan that is lacking. From having us believe that a woman like Zoe could not find a man, to accepting Stan's immediate and complete commitment to care for her and her artificially conceived offspring, to the wealth they both just happen to have in spite of their modest jobs, the central plot just doesn't ring true. The attempt to explain how two caring, beautiful, charming people with ample resources have failed at marriage and relationships because of an unfaithful ex-wife and a deserting father falls short in reality.
It is not only Zoe and Stan who are hard to accept, but it is also difficult to accept virtually everyone else in the film. Zoe's sister Mona (Michaela Watkins) is a stereotypical mom of four who "hates" her children. Zoe's grandmother Nana (Linda Lavin) has been engaged for over two decades and can't commit. And the entire support group of single moms are present in the film only as comic relief.
Although a comedy doesn't necessarily have to have substance, the great ones do. This film is a throw-away on a topic that could have been so much more.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Do you believe that Zoe's fear of commitment was adequately explained by the damage she suffered in her ability to trust men because her father abandoned her when her mother died? Why or why not?
2. What do you think of the choice to be artificially inseminated as a single woman? Do you accept the research that children need both a father and a mother if at all possible? Do you think that single people should adopt?
3. The attraction Zoe and Stan have for each other is instantaneous. Have you ever experienced "love at first sight?" How did it work out for you?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.