September is a month where Hollywood all but shouts, "Behold, these are our mistakes!" Sure, there are outliers here and there; you've got quality offerings such as "Rush" and "Prisoners" to savor, but the great majority of September releases are, for lack of a better word, garbage. Which is why it's so strange that a little movie called "Baggage Claim" presents a critical question, one we haven't often had a chance to ponder. That query? Is it more important for a film in the rom-com genre to be funny, or is it more important for it to be passably romantic? Because if you're looking for logic, realism, or well, romance, you have very little chance of finding any of that in "Baggage Claim". There are tropes built upon tropes, implausibility heaped high into the night sky, and any "romance" to be found is of the fifth-grade variety. But comedy? Yes, that's in here! There are laughs to be had in great multitudes, with writer/director David E. Talbert (I enjoyed his work with "First Sunday" too) packing in far more coherent and hard-hitting punchlines than we have any right to expect from a rom-com. Especially, you know, in September.
In terms of story, "Baggage Claim" is a dead ringer for the 2011 film, "What's Your Number?". The similarities are uncanny: the "a little too friendly" next-door neighbor, the overbearing mom, the younger sister getting engaged and the scramble to find all of the main character's exes to see if one if them is – after all this time – a perfect love match. Paula Patton plays Montana Moore, our main character; she's a flight attendant who has enlisted the (admittedly, illegal) help of her fellow airline industry workers to track down her former flames. She plans to ambush her exes on flights, doing the old, "fancy seeing you here!" number. The somewhat muddled goal is to find a date for the rehearsal dinner, because going stag to her younger sister's pre-wedding festivities would be a bridge to too far for young Montana. In terms of rom-com premises, that's as good as any of them, given the vast majority of them are terrible. "Baggage Claim" can stand proudly beside its predecessors in beating dismal story lines into the ground, no argument there.
Now logically, as "Baggage Claim" is clearly not of this world, audiences looking for realism or romance will find themselves frustrated. There are clear gaps in the editing, items not really tied up, or hinted at and then never mentioned again, as if they simply ran out pens and spreadsheets to keep track of everything. To say certain romantic moments are forced is a wild understatement, you can almost see the cue cards, just off stage, reading "now lean in for kiss". This isn't so much Patton's problem, though she's not helping matters, as it is a foundational issue of the story transpiring just as anyone who has seen a movie prior would expect. There is nothing resembling complexity or nuance, at any point, in terms of where this is all headed, and if we were grading solely on story this would be a complete disaster, an interminable slog.
Luckily for "Baggage Claim", we're not, because everything else that happens, all the attempts at levity and laughs, pretty much work throughout. Where the comedy is concerned, there are great performances, admirable efforts all over the place. Montana's flight attendant friends, played by Adam Brody and Jill Scott, are great every single time they're onscreen together. Jenifer Lewis, as Montana's "married five times" mom, is routinely hilarious. The situations, even when contrived, even when all your intellect is stacked against, surprise with daring forays into ha-ha town. There are knowing jokes about the cheesiness of the story itself such as, "Did you really think line that was going to work?" and solid callbacks like, "You might want to come over here, I think the King of Zamunda has come to visit!" These lines, seemingly out of nowhere, completely freshen up an otherwise drab offering. Truly, after enough of these laughs, you'll find yourself caring less about whatever romantic mess they're currently peddling, far more interested in the next attempt at silliness.
Ultimately, "Baggage Claim" is devoid of anything nearing an innovative plot, and it's fairly simple, only five minutes in, to predict who Montana will end up with, making the next eighty minutes rather academic. Real romantic comedies, the ones we remember, are able to play both sides of this paradigm with something approaching elegance, pivoting on a dime, using laughs to augment the central characters, making the serious elements all the more profound. "Baggage Claim" can't pull that level of "good" off, but perhaps you'll find entertainment in the constant stream of amusements? That's the coin flipped high into the in the air here, the need for comedy on one side, the yearning for love stories on the other, spinning round and round until you decide to call it.
SCORE: 6.6 / 10
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and would probably make a fairly awful flight attendant.