dir. David E. Talbert
Release Date: Sep 27, 13
Baggage Claim doesn’t even waste a full minute before its first grating use of airport/airplane/concept of flying metaphors to explain why Montana Moore (Paula Patton) is single. In an introductory sequence that features the most saccharine-sweet voiceover this side of a traditional Disney princess film, Montana tells us about how “my relationships…are never clear for takeoff.” If only she had put on sunglasses during that ellipsis and walked off to the tune of The Who. But alas, there is no Pete Townshend in Baggage Claim, only the deafening sound of one of the worst romantic comedies in recent memory, the kind in which nobody within the film realizes how unlikable its protagonist is, and one in which dowries can still exist, even if they’re denied in one of the film’s rare shows of awareness that it exists in the year of our Lord 2013.
Left upset by her sister’s coming wedding to a Heisman candidate, and verging on the big 3-0 (a milestone the film stops just short of equating to infertility and spinsterhood), Montana decides to find a husband. Now, we’re not just talking a relationship, or a man with long-term potential. No, a husband. If a ring hasn’t been put on Montana within 30 days, she’ll have to endure the total humiliation of being single at her sister’s wedding and dealing with the reproach of her five-times-married mother. In a pretty good encapsulation of writer-director David E. Talbert’s approach to the material, the film plays Montana as the one in error in this scenario. Though her mother’s many remarriages make for comic relief (and of course culminate in a teary late-film moment between mother and daughter), being married over and over is far less unsavory than not having a man on your arm. Talbert also wrote the novel on which Baggage Claim is based, which is astounding; the man had a lot of time to work on this one.
Of course, Montana has no shortage of men from which to choose. There’s Graham (Boris Kodjoe), the playboy who lives so well that he can afford to take Montana sailing on a calm, sunlit Lake Michigan in a cocktail dress in early November, because that’s a thing that people do in real life. Her ex-boyfriend Damon Diesel (Trey Songz) has become a hot record producer. Another ex, Langston (Taye Diggs) is an up-and-coming politician that wants a trophy wife. In the film’s most inexplicable moment, Montana remembers her “fierce independence” for about 20 seconds in order to realize that she doesn’t want to be a trophy wife, despite the fact that by her own admission she needs to lock down a man. And then there’s Djimon Hounsou’s debonair hotel owner, who’s more charming than Baggage Claim deserves and whose arc ends in Adam Brody’s sassy gay friend making an African king joke that’d be more enraging if it didn’t come at the very end of an assault on the human intellect.
Baggage Claim fails to keep a handle on who Montana is for more than a scene, which makes the film feel both disjointed and kind of condescending. She’s at turns independent, vulnerable, sultry, a madcap and bumbling heroine, and most of the time a needy woman-child who flies (literally!) from man to man, searching for love, despite the clear overtures of her Best Friend Since Childhood and neighbor William (Derek Luke). The fact that William is in a relationship of his own is hardly considered worthwhile by the film, because dammit, Montana needs to be loved! Patton, who can effectively pull off sultry mystery in her sleep, is lost trying to play the breathing equivalent of a week’s worth of Cathy strips. Few actresses, possibly none, could deliver gems like the following with any conviction: “I did meet somebody I really, really needed to meet: me. And it turns out I like me, a lot!” By the time that climactic monologue comes along, a monologue that in context involves her completely ruining her sister’s wedding, Montana having her Stuart Smalley moment can’t save Baggage Claim. This one…needed an emergency landing.