In 2004, a little self-help book made a big splash. Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo wrote a joint effort explaining the meanings behind the post-date rituals that certain men go through in order to distance themselves from the certain women they don’t desire. Their tough-love tome was a popular smash that resulted in a New York Times Bestseller, an appearance on Oprah, and a short-lived talk show for Greg. With that trifecta of gender based marketing secured, it was only a matter of time before a movie was made.
This story takes place in the trendier neighborhoods of Baltimore, and centers on a loose crew of friends, coworkers and acquaintances. Through a tightly designed narrative explaining how women are socialized into loving assholes, how those assholes treat them and the lengths those assholes take to avoid a second date, the comedy makes several pit stops revealing the contemplative questions women have about their would be suitors.
Ben Affleck (Mallrats) and Jennifer Aniston (Office Space) play married-minus-the-ring couple Neil and Beth. Jennifer Connelly (Requiem for a Dream) and Bradley Cooper (Wedding Crashers) play newlyweds Janine and Ben Gunders. Neil is best friends with Ben. Ginnifer Goodwin (Walk the Line) is serial dater Gigi, who works with Beth and Janine. Justin Long (Waiting) is bar owner Alex, and his best friend is real estate agent Conor, played by Kevin Connolly (Antwone Fisher). Conor is in an off-again/on-again relationship with struggling chanteuse, Anna, played by Scarlet Johansson (The Spirit). Mary is a magazine editor played by Drew Barrymore (Donnie Darko), who is friends with Anna, and responsible for placing Conor’s real estate ads.
Neil and Beth are at odds because she resents his refusal to marry. Her sister is getting married, and the couple’s conflict is fully framed within this context. It’s not that Neil is a bad guy; she just can’t cosign his notion of paperless happiness. He goes out of his way on more than one occasion to show his love and commitment to Beth, but without a ring and a promise she senses the potential for a break up.
Janine and Ben have just bought their first home, and while renovating the space, she discovers a pack of cigarettes that signal he may be a liar. Of course, it doesn’t help that his innocent run-in with piping-hot Anna sets off a chain of events that make him question his decision to get married. Anna and Ben begin an affair, and the fallout is catastrophic.
Conor and Gigi have already shared a first date, but since he is more interested in Anna, Gigi is left to analyze his intentions with painful scrutiny. Her brazen efforts to casually bump into Conor at his favorite bar blow up in her face when Alex, the bar owner, is revealed as Conor’s best friend. Alex gives Gigi some sage-like advice, and the two continue to have meaningful exchanges whenever she needs a date’s actions or dialogue interpreted for the dating impaired. He is comfortable being a lothario, and his position as owner of a successful bar puts him in prime position to date whomever he wants.
Anna’s actions are unknown to Conor, who she sees as more of a friend, despite his obvious signs of affection. Even when he gets his shot, Anna realizes that she can never reciprocate his feelings.
Some of the relationships work and some don’t. Overall, the conflicts intersecting the lives of these people in their respective stages of couplehood are resolved to give the movie a happy ending to all involved parties. The audience can look forward to an unconventional comedy that has a few twists and surprises – if they are willing to take a look.
He’s Just Not That Into You is one of those movies women will have already made space for on their DVD shelf, right alongside The Notebook. It works the same way we guys save shelf space for Goodfellas, or Star Wars; it’s meant to be a film staple. The problem is that the movie is – like all of us – flawed.
I can’t bring myself to blame the cast. The ensemble includes some of my personal favorites. Scarlet Johansson is perfect as the temptress who believes she can be the one Ben ultimately chooses. Drew Barrymore is the trendy object of affection, and her bad luck reduces her to technophobia. Justin Long is dynamic, and his character’s development is portrayed with his hallmark sincerity. Standout star Ginnifer Goodwin upstages everyone with her good natured neuroses, and serves as the story’s main source of comedy.
Then, there’s the rest.
Affleck and Aniston are serviceable, but there is a lack of chemistry that makes me see why Brad may have chosen Angelia. Cooper and Connolly could have switched places, and I honestly wouldn’t have noticed the difference. The dead weight of Connelly’s performance as burned bride reminds me that an Oscar is only worth what the pawn shop is willing to pay. Still, they make the drama within this romantic comedy putter, not stop dead in its tracks.
It’s the source material that causes the story to slow down and fall apart. Casual interjections and random actors that serve as exposition, scream, “Hey, plot point ahead!” The same information can be disseminated through the existing dialogue the central characters are given, and the device seems like a forced effort to bring the audience’s attention to the book. At the core of this rotten apple are the flawed notions that serve to perpetuate the longstanding conflict between the sexes. A wise screenwriter once wrote that the worst vice is advice, and this movie plays on hyperbole, not real life for anyone who has ever been on a date.
Gents, watching this movie will earn you credibility and brownie points, but be prepared to engage in a conversation regarding the complexities of dating dynamics. Take the time to choose your words very carefully, and construct cogent examples of why good relationships work on a case by case basis. Ladies, understand that yes, men are compelled by sex, but we are also compelled by making life easy, which means making our significant other happy. We will never have one without the other. As objects of our affection, we will suffer through the unbearable for you, up to and including this movie. As a consumer group, you are on your own. The same socialized behavior that makes your gender favor assholes and bad boys is going to ensure that this movie’s producers, like the book’s writers, get paid. Put your fears to bed, and save your money. Figuring out who is worth a second date is easy, but old-fashioned; don’t give it up on the first night. If he calls, he’s probably worth your time. If not, he never was.
Ben Affleck … Neil Jones
Jennifer Aniston … Beth Bartlett
Drew Barrymore … Mary Harris
Jennifer Connelly … Janine Gunders
Kevin Connolly … Conor Barry
Bradley Cooper … Ben Gunders
Ginnifer Goodwin … Gigi Haim
Scarlett Johansson … Anna Taylor
Kris Kristofferson … Ken Murphy
Justin Long … Alex
DVD Release 02 June 2009
New Line Home Video