Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Baggage Claim

Directed by David E. Talbert.
2013. Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.
Adam Brody
Taye Diggs
Jennifer Lewis
Boris Kodjoe
Djimon Hounsou
Christina Milian
La La Anthony

When Montana (Patton) learns that her younger sister Sheree (London) is getting married soon, and before she is, her world is sent spiraling out of control. Not only is Montana not married, she doesn’t have any prospects. This is a big problem. She’s been raised to believe that she simply is not a lady if she’s not married by thirty. That her sister will tie the knot first is a travesty of epic proportions. At the very least she wants to find Mr. Right in time to escort her to the wedding which is a mere thirty days away. Obviously, this is a daunting task, but it helps that she is an airline stewardess. However, rather than meeting men as she normally would in her profession, her work buddies talk her into what they think is a genius plan. They will track down her ex-boyfriends as they travel to see if any of them has developed into the man of her dreams since they broke up.

Let’s just get this out of the way, first. That is an astonishingly dumb idea. Setting aside the fact that these are guys that she’s already found out were not “the one” for one reason or another, the execution of this plan is idiotic, at best. It involves her dropping everything the second her pals call her to let her know one of these guys is on a  flight, high-tailing it to the airport to make said flight, and trying to instantly rekindle the flames. Yes, she always makes it to the plane just in time, but as you might imagine, these guys have the same problems that caused their break-up the first time around.

In the midst of all the chaos that is her life, she has one stable relationship with a straight man. She grew up with the guy who lives across the hall. In fact, they are best friends. His name is William Wright (Luke). Hey, wait a sec…let me just repeat his name in case you somehow dodged that sledgehammer. William Wright. WRIGHT. Uh-huh.

The overwhelming majority of romantic comedies are inane, predictable affairs. This is certainly no exception. The next moment is always precisely what you think it’s going to be. It simply runs down the rom-com checklist in order and on time. This strict adherence to the formula drains the life out of most jokes. It’s hard to laugh when you already know the punchline.

Likewise, it is difficult to get wrapped up in the dilemmas on the screen when the performances of them are so plastic. Paula Patton normally does solid work. Here, I can see her ‘acting’ which is empirical evidence that the performer is doing a bad job. Her voice has the fake quality of a person trying but failing to prove that they are honest. The rest of the cast seems to be in a contest to see who can be the most photogenic. They take turns reciting their lines through the pearly whites of their megawatt smiles, just like in the pic above. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an impressive looking group of people and an accomplished bunch of actors, but to this particular production they bring all the depth of a cookie sheet. The only characters with any spunk whatsoever are Montana’s partners in romantic crime: Sam (Brody), her gay male friend, and Gail (Scott), her busty and perpetually horny gal pal. Sam is a walking stereotype, but at least he gets most of the movie’s best lines. Gail gets the best gestures and is the most interesting person in the movie. Love her or hate her, she has a zest for life and an independence sorely missing from the protagonist. A better movie could probably have been made about her.

Everything I’ve mentioned thus far makes Baggage Claim a bad movie. Regardless of how terribly they go down, all of these elements are rather innocuous. They are things that render this fit for the skyward reaching junk pile of rom-coms, all of which are indistinguishable from the rest. However, right from the start this is a potentially damaging film. It repeatedly and explicitly pushes the idea that a woman absolutely, positively must have a husband or she is a failure at life. Sam impotently tries to dissuade Montana from this notion once or twice. When Montana herself comes to understand the fallacy of this ideal, the movie’s own finale completely undermines her. Honestly, it’s baffling that she believed this in the first place given the fact that marriage hasn’t actually worked for her own mother (Lewis), the one pushing this whole mindset. Mom’s been married five times, and even Montana understands she marries simply for the sake of being married. This is not a model to live by. The entire thing is an exercise in archaic thought. Sure, we all want someone to grow old with. Branding someone worthless for having yet found that person is backwards, at best, and anti-feminist, if not downright misogynist, at worst.

To blame for this atrocity we have writer/director David E. Talbert, or Tyler Perry 2.0, as I like to call him. He’s taken essentially the same path to Hollywood as Mr. Madea. Talbert wrote and directed his own plays which he successfully toured around the nation targeting African-American female audiences. His work, that I’ve seen anyway, has a similar mix of Christianity and secularism, is thematically similar, but tends to be a bit more risqué. This holds true as their work translates to the big screen. Unfortunately, Talbert fails to realize that the time for labeling single women near (or in) their thirties as barren old maids has long since past. It’s also a terrible message for the young ladies in the audience. I’m not normally a cinematic moralist. I don’t need movies to have positive messages for me to enjoy them, but I don’t like to be brow-beaten, either. This is so persistent with its assertions, it galls me to no end.

MY SCORE: 2/10

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