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Having grown up across the street from the Twentieth Century Fox lot, it’s only fitting that after years of playing the friend or a sidekick in a supporting role, the utterly delightful Paula Patton has finally been given the opportunity to take the lead in one of the studio’s big ensemble romantic comedies.
It’s just a shame that writer/director David E. Talbert’s cinematic adaptation of his 2005 book Baggage Claim is nowhere near as charming, genuine or relatable as the effervescent Patton, who nonetheless puts her heart and soul into her role as beautiful Baltimore based flight attendant Montana Moore.
Like a long lost Doris Day vehicle, the film’s laughably outdated attitudes regarding love, marriage and a woman’s worth make Baggage Claim’s anachronistic, formulaic plot hard to buy into from the start, particularly given the movie’s presentation of Montana as an intelligent, independent-minded woman.
While she’s given a sharp, witty voice-over introduction at the start of the film, Montana’s characterization as a savvy modern woman is quickly negated in the first act when she jumps into a garbage can before realizing she’d been manipulated by a smooth-talking married man.
Only a few pratfalls away from mistaking it from any other romantic comedy, Baggage is fortunately bolstered by its dynamically talented cast, not to mention Talbert’s wise decision as a screenwriter to put more faith in the ensemble than the overly predictable plotline by dishing out several scene-stealing opportunities for the cast to shine.
While it does bear far too much in common with another recent Fox release via the Anna Faris romantic comedy What’s Your Number? which in itself was based on a 2006 novel, fortunately, this one is the better of the two cinematic endeavors.
While Faris was the best thing in the earlier production, fortunately Baggage avoids Number’s raunchier emphasis on sexual history with a classier interest in past relationships as Montana revisits her boyfriends from the past to discover the men they are today.
After her latest romantic disaster finds her down in the dumps, Montana is stunned to discover that her college-aged sister has gotten engaged.
Tired of playing the single maid of honor in her marriage minded family where her mother has walked down the aisle a total of five times (so far) and holds such outdated views that females aren’t women or ladies unless they’ve been married and had at least two children, Montana decides to turn her search for a husband up to Bachelorette level proportions.
During a night of drinking and scheming with her stereotypical gay best friend (a priceless Adam Brody) and promiscuous gal pal (the hilarious Jill Scott), the three flight attendants rig the ticketing system to their benefit – arranging for Montana to happen to work any flight taken by an ex-boyfriend during the busy holiday travel season.
Knowing that she doesn’t have enough time to meet someone new, their hope is that Montana’s someone olds will have turned into someone to grow old with as she embarks on thirty days and thirty thousand miles worth of dating hijinks.
From a black Republican (Taye Diggs) to a music star to a wealthy hotelier, Montana’s scheme to unveil a future husband soon finds her revisiting her own feelings to the men of her past and present including her best friend of twenty-five years turned apartment neighbor… whose name just so happens to be Mr. Wright (Derek Luke).
While it’s easy to see where all of this is headed as she navigates from one caricature to the next, Patton holds her head high, evoking the same grace under formulaic Rom-Com pressure of genre queens of the past from Meg Ryan to Sandra Bullock.
And while much like many of Montana’s men, the movie is easily forgotten, Patton’s a keeper as in the film her character (rather unconvincingly) discovers that the most important person she’s met along the way just happens to be herself.
Unfortunately, we just wish that Montana Moore would’ve been half as interesting as Patton’s portrayal of her fools us into believing she is (at least until she makes the first in a series of embarrassing moves from the garbage can onward). Despite this, Patton is so good that she deserves another chance to lead the way in a female-centric film that’s truly reflective of life in 2014 rather than Baggage's only-in-the-movies era of Doris Day and Sandra Dee sexless sex comedies.
Fortunately fast-talking Adam Brody gets in a few memorable barbs as the gay sidekick, even though far too little is made of some genuinely creative characters that work alongside Montana for the airlines including an over-eager security screener named Cedric (Affion Crockett).
Crockett, like Brody – is much more entertaining the silly romantic encounters that make up the rest of the film, and while there’s still enough wit and spirit in the briskly paced 97 minute film for indiscriminate romantic comedy lovers looking for something mindlessly fun, there’s also enough great airline material there to have made for a much greater and more unexpected comedy altogether.
And indeed when the film moves beyond the confines of the gimmicky romantic comedy plotline in favor of organic air industry based laughter, that’s where Talbert’s writing (and Baggage Claim overall) really soars, illustrating his talent and promise for future comedic fare.
Glossily produced with warm, flattering cinematography and music video like loveliness in its parade of hotness (male and female alike), the beautifully transferred Fox Blu-ray arrives on shelves in time for Valentine’s Day.
But despite its predictability, Baggage Claim still manages to avoid too much turbulence thanks to the smooth delivery of its enviable cast, including yet another star-worthy turn by Paula Patton who flies far above the movie’s baggage to claim her very own place alongside Bullock, Ryan and Roberts as a Rom-Com heroine.
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