There are many genres within which to categorize movies. On the most basic level there's comedies, dramas, horror etc. Think a little harder and you'll come up with dark comedies or romantic dramas. In recent years, this assessment process has been further fine-tuned. Log on to Netflix.com and you can find the following classifications: critically acclaimed inspiration movies, or period pieces of gay and lesbian dramas. We're moving in an interesting direction - an era of specialization where individual tastes are fully appreciated and plot types are increasingly expansive. The current landscape of cinema assessment is better than it used to be, but not as good as it should be. These categories still tell us too little about the degree to which the film will meet our idiosyncratic preferences, moods and desires.
Take 'date movies' for example. This movie genre is designed for viewers on a date or in a relationship and has evolved from the general typology of 'romance' or 'comedy' to more precise sub-categories like "chick flick." From an assessment point of view, the term chick-flick is somewhat more useful because it conjurs associations of a plot that will center on two characters striving to become one. But it's not enough. I'm taking a stand and pioneering new territory in the world of cinematic assessment, which I will heretofore term the 'date-enhancement' genre. The recently released "The Back-Up Plan" qualifies.
This movie presents the story of a woman who wants to get pregnant. The dating scene has proved too dissatisfying to her for too long, so now she's taking family-making plans into her own hands via insemination. The procedure goes well and she is soon pregnant. Conflict arises when, just as her status as pregnant cements, the man of her dreams enters the equation. What ensues is a consistently touching, often funny, and occasionally surprising evolution of two people becoming one.
But this is not a movie review. This is an assessment. So, how does "The Back-Up Plan" qualify as date-enhancement cinema? Glad you asked.
I don't care what happens plot wise (though movies are so formulaic these days that few surprises are likely to arise). I care only about what feelings are evoked as you and your special someone exit the movie theater and back out into the date. To enhance the dating experience, I need the movie to have achieved the following: to induce a generally pleasant and positive mood, and to foster a sense of optimism and confidence toward the opposite sex and couple-hood, generally. I even need a little subconscious couples therapy that relays an implicit message - relationships are not perfect, the other partner is trying the best they can, and the REAL goal is always balanced needs and common ground.
Thus far, I have established three necessary and sufficient criteria:
a. Well-being Boost. No, this is not like a protein boost. This is when character A helps character B to introspect until a fatal personality flaw is identified and removed. The result is a sense of self that is mentally healthier - more self-aware, more flexible in response to conflict and more compassionate toward others. In "The Back-Up Plan" Zoe, the protagonist, presents a fatal flaw - abandonment fear. She assumes that the love and commitment of Stan is somehow insincere. This assumption is based not in reality (the things he actually does) but internally, upon her expectations. Her feared predictions of how the relationship will end dominates her attention to the extent that she zooms in on bits of misconstrued evidence that confirms her negative running hypothesis, at the expense of prevalent contradictory data. Therapeutically speaking, Stan's response is ideal (excluding a few hiccups of stubbornness along the way). He holds firm on his need for her to give him a chance while simultaneously offering the unconditional trust and love that Zoe never received as a child (her father abandoned her). Yes, we learn that a spouse has the power to positively transform long-standing psychological hang-ups - could a more inspiring message be delivered to couples in the audience?
b. The Good Idea Montage. Increasingly, the notion of "dating" activates negative and stressful associations in our culture, such as 'awkward silences,' 'failed chemistry' and 'wasted time.' A date-enhancement movie needs to override this by providing simple, succinct and positive associations. "The Back-Up Plan" supplies the following relationship-excitement associations for our neural networks to digest: 'spontaneous sex on a wooden work table,' 'McDonalds in bed,' and 'cuddling around a pregnancy pillow' to name just a few. Further, profound meaning is attached to mundane objects - a penny becomes an eternal memento, a pizza becomes oddly romantic and a cutting-edge baby carriage saves a marriage. These are all associations related to an awesome relationship. Clearly, a relationship is the key to a more meaningful life, says the subconscious. Let the priming begin.
c. Happy Ending Guarantee: There absolutely needs to be a happy ending, in which passion persists, love is reaffirmed, and a stable, affectionate future is implied. Remember the ending to "The Break-Up," where Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston - a couple that was never healthy to begin with, and stayed together for way too long - eventually went their separate ways? This leaves a bitter aftertaste. In the "The Back-Up Plan," Zoe and Stan are last seen in idyllic-couple mode. He's just put the kids to bed. She's still sexy and wants to prove it. They both are completely happy and at-peace with each other.
If the goal is date enhancement - and let's face it, sometimes that's more important than the entertainment of an exceptional movie - then "The Back-Up Plan" gets four stars.
Please email with supplemental criteria for the 'date enhancement' genre.