Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Cinema File #266: "Baggage Claim" Review

Having somewhat inadvertently become an aficionado of Tyler Perry’s greater Madeaverse, I feel it is incumbent upon me to strive for fairness when it comes to judging lighthearted comedies featuring predominantly African American casts. I must always try to avoid the temptation to treat them all like, well, Temptation, so as to not view them through the same lens of disturbing religiosity and backwards morality just because they have one arbitrary thing in common. And yet, here we have Baggage Claim, a film that as far as I know Perry had nothing to do with, that nonetheless shares many of his most egregious and oddly specific cinematic sins, albeit in a mostly secular context. Admittedly, the producers of Baggage Claim would have had to try a lot harder to be as bad as even the least offensive Tyler Perry joint, but then not trying very hard might be the film’s biggest sin of all.

Baggage Claim follows the incredulously named Montana Moore, a sadly single flight attendant who hatches a scheme out of desperation to exploit her inside knowledge of vacation season flight schedules to set up pseudo-serendipitous meetings with her ex-boyfriends, in the hopes of rekindling past love perhaps given up on too quickly.  As flimsy pretexts for bad date montages go, this one is particularly slight, which only makes it more strange that it would be so needlessly convoluted. Why not just make it Blind Date: The Movie and save yourself a lot of trouble? It's not like this movie is otherwise shooting for originality. The flight attendant angle doesn’t really add anything to the story, and the only thing brought by the fact that her prospective dates are ex-boyfriends rather than new men is the sense that our main character is stupid enough to have forgotten why she dumped this assortment of losers in the first place.

And boy is she stupid. Sorry if that sounds overly harsh, but before you accuse me of being unfeminist, know that my objection to the protagonist’s point of view has everything to do with her reflexive abdication of individual womanhood. As you might guess, this is where I get the Tyler Perry vibes, as outside of every Perry film I’ve seen and maybe the Bride of Frankenstein, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female character so thoroughly defined by men, and even the zombie with the big hair knew enough to at least express impotent outrage about it. Montana by contrast lives as if her life is utterly incomplete without a ring on her finger, and not because she's desperately seeking the right person, but because belonging to the institution of marriage is just so important that it requires a wacky abuse of frequent flyer privacy. That this is not explicitly couched in a religious directive does not ultimately make it any less galling or offensive.

It wouldn't be so bad if her reasons for wanting to get married weren't so completely flighty (no pun intended). We get a one two punch of obviously artificial deadlines to find a man, thus establishing what little we get as far as the stakes of this plot. The first is her sister's wedding, because jealousy is always a good reason to do things, and if that weren't silly enough, the other is an old saying from her five time divorcee mother proclaiming that "you're not a woman unless you're married before you're thirty." Terrible, ass backwards ideas about what it is to be a woman are at the heart of this movie, and because its not a Tyler Perry film, the coup de grace of terribleness hits when we actually have characters smart enough to point out that she doesn't need a man to define her, and she acknowledges this, and then completely fucking dismisses it!

Sure, I could point to the occasional bright spot. Jill Scott and Adam Brody as Montana's effeminately gay and boisterously overweight best friends are kind of sort of passably charming I guess, and might have even represented a saving grace if they had been given more to do. I genuinely laughed at one joke towards the end about Black Republicans, though it was almost certainly one of those moments where desperation in the face of a comedy vacuum overtook good sense. I can't even complain about how mind numbingly formulaic the movie is, because right after this I saw Battle of the Year and I have to save up all my rage about that problem for when I get to that review (just wait...). Baggage Claim is a movie not worth the time it took just now to write about it, let alone the time it took you to read about it, which only makes fools out of both of us. More me I suppose, but still.

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