Review: Baggage Claim
Note: This article was originally published at Movie Mezzanine.
If real life was like a bad romantic comedy, Earth would no longer be overpopulated, because most people would kill themselves by the time they turned 30. The best romcoms are those in which the romance is unexpected; the worst ones follow people who can’t live without it. The latest entry in the latter category is Baggage Claim, director David Talbert’s backwards relationship comedy that, were it not for the largely non-white cast, would have been all the rage in the 1950s. Based on his novel of the same name, it’s a hodgepodge of clichés that not even an ensemble cast can save, and a love letter to people that hope the sexual revolution was just a phase.
Paula Patton stars as Montana Moore, a thirty-something flight attendant under pressure from her overbearing mother to find a man and settle down. When her younger sister announces her engagement, Montana realizes she’ll be the only bridesmaid without a date. Instead of just spending the next month looking for a suitable guy to bring—you know, like a normal person—she decides to use her airport connections to secretly (and illegally) arrange run-ins with her numerous ex-boyfriends so that she can hopefully get engaged before the wedding.
Loser plus Time might somehow equal Dream Guy, so she spends thirty days re-connecting with past flames, most of whom have gone on to become wealthy and powerful men who could seemingly offer her everything a girl could wish for, except for perhaps a lifetime of True Love.
Patton has shown she’s adept at playing cool and confident characters in movies like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Precious, but she’s clearly at a loss for how to perform a character this weak-willed. She shrieks and pouts and gesticulates emphatically, as if the right combination of inflection and movement will suddenly make Montana three-dimensional, but to no avail. The material she’s given is so contrived it almost feels like satire, a scathing indictment of the values and attitudes towards women often perpetuated in modern romantic comedies.
One character reacts to Montana’s plan with cries of “This is the stupidest idea ever!” and “You don’t need a man to define you!” It even forecasts Mr. Right within minutes (his name is literally Mr. Wright) and stages the climactic scene as a frantic race to the airport, so this has to be self-parody, right?
Apparently not. Talbert seems unaware of the meta-commentary at work, and Baggage Claim ultimately embraces tropes and values so old-fashioned that no amount of attractive people can hide the ugliness underneath. It’s not for lack of trying—there are a lot of attractive people here. Montana’s exes are played by the likes of Taye Diggs, Boris Kodjoe, Trey Songz and Djimon Hounsou, all strutting around expensive homes wearing designer clothes and offering her a life of luxury. The camera lingers on their bodies, from embarrassingly tacky slo-mo shots of buff dudes unbuttoning their shirts to gratuitous glimpses of Patton in her underwear. But eye candy can only go so far.
Baggage Claim is insulting to both men and women, clinging desperately to the traditional notion that there’s a perfect someone for everyone while delivering surface-level nods to evolving attitudes about sex and marriage. It wrongly assumes the audience will sympathize with Montana simply because she’s the protagonist, despite the fact she has no life outside of work and is defined solely by what she lacks: a husband.
Montana expects men to meet an impossibly high standard—one montage suggests she rejects someone simply because he doesn’t know how to use chopsticks—and believes that she can find someone willing to spend the rest of his life with her after only one date. What’s worse, she turns out to be right! The men in Baggage Claim are simpletons ready to tie the knot within hours, presumably because she’s a bombshell whose whole life revolves around impressing the opposite sex. One can’t help but wonder what terrifying flaws they’re hiding if they’re this desperate.
There are a few bright spots. Jill Scott shows off some surprisingly solid comedic chops as Montana’s promiscuous best friend Gail, and Adam Brody wisely underplays his role as Sam, a gay co-worker. Unfortunately, their characters never amount to anything more than clichés, and the limp script keeps the laughs to a minimum. The actors playing Montana’s potential life-partners do great work given the stale material, particularly Derek Luke, who has a relaxed chemistry with Patton that’s missing from the rest of the movie. There’s also one genuinely funny sequence involving an awkward conversation about race and politics, and it works because the focus finally shifts from Montana’s need for a man to the humor of simple human encounters.
If only the rest of the movie were that competent. The closest Montana ever gets to becoming a fully-realized character—and the closest Baggage Claim ever gets to actually being interesting—is a scene when she defiantly proclaims that maybe it’s okay to be single, and marriage isn’t the only thing that defines her. It’s a simple truth too often ignored by films in this genre, and for a few brief moments Montana seems empowered and ready to face the rest of her life on her own terms.
Then she goes home and falls into the arms of another man, clamoring for someone else to love her the way she’s unable to love herself.