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  He's Just Not That Into You

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly

Directed by: Ken Kwapis

Produced by: Nancy Juvonen
Written by: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein

Distributor: Warner Bros.

 
     I haven’t read Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s female-targeted relationship-help book, He’s Just Not That Into You— it would be more than a little creepy and out-of-character if I could say I had—but the popular bestseller’s title has always rubbed me the wrong way.  It suggests a self-indulgent, falsely authoritative work in which hack-psychologists purport to understand romance when really they just want to sell bored women the exact same worthless junk they criticize as misogynist when it appears in Cosmopolitan. (Its reputation suggests my assumptions are correct.) Not having so much as glanced at the book, I realize I’m being inappropriately dismissive, but my gut instinct is that its contents are nowhere near as wise as the authors think.

     Thankfully, the film version of He’s Just Not That Into You has little in common with its source (at least what I know of it). Not only is the movie told in narrative ensemble form—as you may have already guessed given the presence of an A-list Hollywood cast in ads, it isn’t a searing self-help documentary—it also plays as a fairly ordinary romantic comedy. Unlike what its source suggests, the movie is an affably thoughtless diversion with no real aspirations to provide substantive wisdom on modern relationships. The freshest commentary offered on, say, the differences between men and women comes when main character Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) has trouble understanding why guys don’t call her back, but this is conveyed in such a cutesy manner that it barely registers. Moviegoers looking for an original or critical take on the mainstream rom-com will indeed be disappointed, but most viewers will instead be pleased that the film is not the insufferable exercise in faux female empowerment its background suggests.

     Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein’s adapted plot involves several relationships that work and an equal smattering of ones that don’t –both for the characters and for the filmmakers. The aforementioned Gigi resorts to stalking dates who don’t return her calls. In the process, she fatefully stumbles into the charming roommate of one of her uninterested potential suitors. He’s Alex (Justin Long) and he offers Gigi relationship advice, only to in the process realize he himself may be falling in love with her. Gigi works with Janine (Jennifer Connelly), a married woman whose husband Ben (Bradley Cooper) is cheating on her with Anna (Scarlett Johansson); Beth (Jennifer Aniston), who wants desperately to marry her longtime-boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) despite the fact that he doesn’t believe in the institution; and Mary (Drew Barrymore), a free-agent who may indeed end up with Connor (Kevin Connelly), a guy Gigi initially dated and Anna used on the side while vying for Ben.

     If the above story-web sounds like a clusterfuck on paper, that’s because it’s one of the more ambitious intersecting-character efforts taken on by a major studio in recent years. In terms of pacing and balancing the tones of each segment, director Ken Kwapis does an excellent job. (His directorial abilities have clearly progressed since he made the similarly-structured Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which was overlong.) The main problem with He’s Just Not That Into You is that half of the characters just aren’t well written or acted. Beth and Neil feel like they were inserted only to accommodate more stars to sell the movie. Aniston and Affleck don’t do much to spice the ensuing caricatures up; the two contemplate the idea of marriage in the most basic of terms. Barrymore and Connolly are not as insufferable, but they’re very forgettable. The former recites obnoxious dialogue at nonsensical speeds for zero laughs and the latter only seems to appear whenever the plot needs a bookend.

     Had He’s Just That Into You limited itself to five characters, then it would’ve been more consistently entertaining and may have even approached the wisdom for which its presumably phony source aspires. By the movie’s second act, Gigi becomes a perfectly enjoyable character as her interactions with Alex are scintillating. Before then, she’s too pouty and pathetic in her artificial desperation for a man, but this would’ve largely disappeared had the Anniston and Barrymore characters not been present for Gigi’s mind-numbing office-chatter. Left for Gigi to console would be best work pal Janine, whose relationship problems prove more involving than those of the other characters. While Kwapis occasionally trivializes Janine’s failing marriage with Ben by relying too heavily on climactic moments—a scene in which she throws a mirror to the floor only to sweep up the resulting hundred shards of glass is particularly overdramatic—the core emotions feel real. The reason for this is that Ben’s scenes with Anna are so believable; one can easily see why he would stray from his quietly desperate wife to a vulnerable, sexy woman who can’t seem to realize intimacy.

     Perhaps I should be thankful that He’s Just Not That Into You mostly succeeds as a breezy, enjoyable Hollywood date-flick despite its excesses. After all, it’s miles beyond what I expected it would be. But something in me thinks the film should be held to a higher standard precisely because it shows signs of life that you wouldn’t expect from the material. Had the writers and Kwapis focused more intimately on their most compelling characters, He’s Just Not That Into You could’ve been that rare perceptive film on modern love with none of the artsy-fartsy baggage of a serious project like Closer. I’m left to count it the most agreeable missed opportunity I’ve seen in awhile. After all, one has to give at least a few props to any Hollywood Valentine’s Day confection that tackles adultery.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 2.6.2009

Screened on: 1.29.2009 at the WB Lot in Burbank, CA.

 

He's Just Not That Into You is rated PG-13 and runs 125 minutes.


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