Moviegoers whose guilty pleasures are fluffy rom-coms might find enough to like about Baggage Claim, if only because it’s mostly a harmless fantasy and isn’t offensively backwards-thinking.
Baggage Claim revolves around Montana Moore (played by Paula Patton), a single flight attendant who’s spent years serving as a bridesmaid (never the bride) at weddings for her younger sisters and multiple-divorcee mother (Jenifer Lewis). Montana has long felt pressured to settle down by her domineering parent, but finally reaches a breaking point when her youngest sister (Lauren London) – who’s only a sophomore in college – gets engaged to a student athlete with professional ambitions… not long after Montana learns the sordid truth about the wealthy and handsome suitor (Boris Kodjoe) who’s been courting her in recent months.
With only thirty days to go before her sister’s engagement party, Montana’s best friends/co-workers – including emotionally-insightful gay friend (yup) Sam (Adam Brody) – assist her in taking desperate measures. The plan that Sam proposes involves getting Montana on several flights (whether she’s working or not) over the next month, so that she “accidentally” cross paths (and, in the process, rekindle ties) with various men that she has dated over the years – in the hope that the final outcome will change and one of the gentlemen will prove to have real husband potential this time around.
No doubt (based on the premise description), you’ve begun to piece together that Baggage Claim is one of those saccharine fantasy romantic comedies that more sophisticated and contemporary-minded movies in the genre tend to thumb their nose at nowadays (see: Don Jon, for the latest example). Still, as far as giving credit where credit’s due, the film’s writer/director David E. Talbert – a successful playwright who’s drawing from his own debut novel – does avoid embracing the sort of blatant gender double-standards, misogyny and/or misandry that often pervade the rom-com genre.
Talbert, as the screenwriter, commits two sins that cannot be overlooked. The first is that he embraces just about every banal rom-com cliche that anyone remotely familiar with the genre will recognize. More importantly: although Talbert manages to execute these overused tropes with basic competence, his script work lacks the necessary flourish or personal touch that could make the plot beats and character types feel more innovative. In fact, those elements wind up feeling barely credible, even in the film’s heightened (read: borderline cartoonish) representation of reality.
The other major faux pas that Talbert commits as a storyteller is with regard to his flat characterization, which leaves most of the cast members stuck playing stereotypes. On the one hand, there’s nothing really malicious about his approach; people like Montana and her mother feel as though they could’ve been inspired by real individuals that Talbert knows (and respects). Problem is, most of the characters (as written) don’t have much more than a one-note personality, so they lack even the necessary substance to work as caricatures that provide some meaningful form of social commentary. For example: Jill Scott as Montana’s single (and happy) gal-pal Gail is never shamed for her lifestyle, yet there’s not enough to her character that makes her memorable – and thus, it’s difficult to appreciate the message that Talbert is attempting to send.
Fortunately, Patton dials the bubbly charm up to 10 and does a good job of making Montana feel like someone with a relatable and likable personality – as opposed to a protagonist who exists for female viewers to project themselves onto (which is how the script presents her). Meanwhile, the many old flames that she encounters on her journey tend to vary in quality, depending on the actor playing them. As such, the more engaging actors like Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) make the most of the flimsy material they have to work with, but musician/actor Trey Songz (in a meta-appearance as a music industry player) and Derek Luke (Sparkle), as Montana’s longtime friend and neighbor William Wright, (three guesses as to how their relationship works out), wind up coming off as handsome, but mostly bland – no more or less.
There are certain qualities that set Baggage Claim apart from the most generic of rom-com fare, like how the subject of physical attraction avoids being swept under the rug (even though it’s not the focus of the story). Otherwise, in terms of his direction, Talbert hits every note that you would expect, with regard to his visual choices (rest assured, there is a travel montage that is primarily composed of uninspired shots featuring flying planes and city skylines) and how he structures the story to culminate with gooey life-lesson asserting that only feels partly earned (following all the comical irreverence that proceeded it).
Moviegoers whose guilty pleasures are fluffy rom-coms might find enough to like about Baggage Claim, if only because it’s mostly a harmless fantasy and isn’t offensively backwards-thinking in its portrayal of modern attitudes towards gender, love, and relationships in general. Everyone else, including the couples that are looking for something to watch on date night – like Montana, you deserve better.
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for Baggage Claim:
Baggage Claim is now playing in theaters. It is 96 minutes long and Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language.
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