Okay, men aren’t supposed to be able to understand women. But can anybody explain to me why most women seem to enjoy the worst sort of click flicks—the ones that demean them by implying, if they don’t say it straight out, that women are by nature needy, clinging airheads who can’t find fulfillment except with the “right guy” and spend every instant of their waking lives stalking that elusive animal? Movies, that is, like “He’s Just Not That Into You.” (Just to avoid charges of sexism, it might also be asked why men are attracted by brainless action movies that glamorize a ridiculous ideal of masculinity that would make every last one of them feel like a loser, if they were capable of drawing the comparison.)
Based on what’s been described as a humorous “instructional manual” on male dating behavior by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (of “Sex and the City” fame), the picture is a tediously uninvolving ensemble mating-go-round that shuffles together a group of boring Baltimore characters in what’s supposed to be—but isn’t—an effervescent romantic roundelay. At the center is Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin, who’s like a young Sally Field—as if we needed a second one), who obsesses over her first date with boyish realtor Conor (Kevin Connolly) when he fails to call her afterward. She’s advised about how to proceed by her co-workers Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and Janine (Jennifer Connelly)—though in fact they never seem to do anything in their anonymous office but talk about their love lives.
Beth is in an apparently happy, seven-year live-together relationship with Neil (Ben Affleck), an incredibly solicitous fellow whose only fault is that he doesn’t want to memorialize their commitment with a marriage license. Janine, on the other hand, is married—to Ben (Bradley Cooper). But he’s suddenly struck by an overpowering urge to get it on with Anna (Scarlett Johansson), a flighty yoga instructor and would-be singer whom he meets in a late-night beer run to the grocery with Neil. To complete the circle, Anna is a long-time friend of Conor, who wants the relationship to ascend to a much higher level than she’s interested in.
Two other characters revolving in more distant orbits are also involved. One is Alex (Justin Long), a bartender pal of Conor’s who befriends Gigi when she comes to his place searching for his buddy, and offers her advice on male dating rituals. And another is Mary (Drew Barrymore), the romance-hungry ad manager at the Baltimore gay paper who searches for romance on the web while a gaggle of her fellow staffers offer her encouragement, warnings and helpful hints. She’s brought into the mix when she begins placing ads for Conor’s business directed to a gay clientele.
It would be a tiresome business to catalogue the twists all these stories take. Suffice it to say that marriages come under stress (Janine and Ben fight over his sneaking cigarettes as well as his trysts with Anna), other relationships are tested (Beth and Neil separate over her desire to get married), and “unlikely” couplings occur (which you can certainly see coming from miles away). All this is presented in short, peppy scenes that never allow the characters to develop beyond the stage of cardboard cutouts and sometimes descend to awful depths (most embarrassingly when Janine tries to save her marriage by seducing Neil in his office while Anna hides in the bathroom—could anything be less original or more tasteless?). Occasionally scenes of people ranting directly to the audience about their pet dating peeves are randomly inserted, presumably to salvage some of the book’s “wittier” passages that couldn’t be comfortably situated in the basic plot. And just to be safe, director Ken Kwapis—a shameless but pedestrian manipulator under the best of circumstances—inserts reaction shots of a big dog for no apparent reason. When in doubt, cue the mutt.
The cast, even the best of them, flounder in the mix of cutesiness and cheap sentiment. Goodwin is annoyingly bubbly, Barrymore generically sweet, and Johannson aggressively sultry, while Aniston and Connelly try to pull off the more “serious” parts of the mixture without getting past soap-opera pyrotechnics. Among the men, Connolly plays nice-guy goofy well enough (though, like Barrymore, he’s saddled with some “cute” gay humor that trades in the crudest stereotyping), Long is okay as the cynic who’s predestined to wind up as whipped as the guys he comments on (in what’s certainly the most implausible plot turn), and Kris Kristofferson shows up as Beth’s father only long enough to suffer a perfectly-timed heart attack. Then there’s Affleck, who’s usually the blandest guy in the room but here finds himself outdone by Cooper, a vacuous hunk with zero presence and charisma. Technically “He’s Just Not That Into You” is fine, with smooth cinematography (John Bailey) and behind-the-scenes visual work (though editor Cara Silverman might have chopped a bit off the 129-minute running time).
It’s likely that lots of females will find the movie as enjoyable as they apparently did “Sex in the City.” But most men will probably be scratching their heads trying to figure out why. For them, the most truthful moment in the picture will come when it’s remarked of one character who winds up alone, “Sometimes a happy ending is moving on.” Leaving the theatre, that is.
Of course, a man’s writing this.