One of Truffaut’s great masterpieces, Day for Night (1973), tells the story of the production of a fictional movie called Meet Pamela. It appears this isn’t going to be a good movie but nobody seems to mind, as making movies, even a bad one, is fun. The brilliance of Day for Night is that it shows people who could be artists, but their desire to be around a movie, any movie, is better than the work it would take to make a piece of art. I would imagine that if I ever saw Meet Pamela, which appears in Day for Night to be a melodramatic, insipid family piece, it would remind me of Baggage Claim (2013), which doesn’t have an original thought or sequence in it and is so insubstantial that it is in danger of blowing away in the slightest of breezes. Yet, I can’t fully condemn it for all its faults, because there’s talent here in the cast, even if, as in Meet Pamela, it’s not on fullest display. Baggage Claim is better if you imagine what a good time the actors were having making it without focusing on the depressing time you’re having watching it.
Paula Patton stars as Montana, a woman in her 30s who has never been married and is feeling the pressure from her recently affianced younger sister and her perennially aisle-walking mother, who doesn’t understand how she can have found five husbands and Montana can’t find one. After being disappointed in her latest relationship, Montana embarks on a tour of her old boyfriends to see if time has changed the irreconcilable things that doomed them before in the hope she can find a husband in 30 days and beat her sister to the altar, which is pretty stupid, stupider still that the man for her, her neighbor William (Derek Luke), lives just down the hall. This cross-country tour, facilitated by Montana’s profession as a flight attendant, includes music producer Damon (Trey Songz), politician Langston (Taye Diggs) and hotelier Quinton (Djimon Hounsou). Believe it or not, distance has hardly made the heart fonder, and while each reencounter with her former flames begins promisingly, each ends humiliatingly and she’s no closer to being married than she was at the beginning, leaving only the dimmest of us wondering if she’ll ever find true love. From there it goes from ridiculous to even more ridiculous, then to slightly preachy to completely long-winded and, finally, just over.
This plot line, stunningly original as it is, is populated with words from one of the worst scripts in years, written by David E. Talbot, who also directs. Lazy (the story is bridged along by endless musical montages when actual writing would have been better); oddly conceived (the stated reason that Montana and William don’t get together in the first place is because of a hardly present girl William is dating: She is briefly introduced until she’s cut out of the script then returns, set up as a devious romantic obstacle only to be cut out again); and hideously clichéd (nearly offensively so, Montana’s two best friends are a sassy oversexed girl and the ubiquitous gay best friend), the script is scrubbed clean of intelligence, interest and forward momentum. It’s so bereft of energy, it makes dead on arrival look like Robin Williams. The filmmaking is informed by a similar malaise in thought and creativity. Take one moment in which Montana goes to Chicago for Thanksgiving to be with a man. They go boating on Lake Michigan. She’s wearing a short, slinky dress and he’s got only an oxford shirt and slacks on. The average temperature in Chicago in late Chicago is lower than 40 degrees. If the movie doesn’t even have the presence of mind to realize that it’s really cold in Chicago around Thanksgiving, how can it expect me to reward it with my full presence of mind?
And yet, words are performed by people, people with personalities and inherent qualities that can transcend a screen and a miserable script. Thank God one of those people is Paula Patton, who is effervescent and charming, sexy and demur, funny and ebullient. She doesn’t just breathe life into the movie, she administers CPR. A pessimist would mourn the fact that her beguiling, latent intelligence is undercut by a script that is an insult to what she’s capable of, but who has time for pessimism in a world in which Paula Patton exists? She and Luke have wonderful chemistry and the scene between her and Diggs’ character is the closest to a completely realized comedic scene, even though it’s a cliché too (he’s a politician who tries to make her into the doting traditional wife at a dinner with important donors and she is a hit by doing the opposite). What made me think more of Meet Pamela than say, Movie 43 (2013), against which, based on the script alone, Baggage Claim would be competing for the year’s worst movie, is that for all its schmaltz, insipidness and clichés, there’s genuine heart to it, embodied, personified, and ultimately earned by Patton. Like Meet Pamela, this is an incredibly forgettable movie, one that is destined to leave the public consciousness as soon as it enters it, but it’s also made by happy people, people who want to please, and that desire, uncynical and simple, is infectious. This is what we used to call a star vehicle, a project whose sole purpose is to capture a personality on screen. It would be wonderful if the movie had even a fraction of the charm of that star, alas, alas.