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He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
If Love Actually is the superstar child resulting from the marriage of the romantic comedy and ensemble film genres, then He’s Just Not That Into You is the sad little sibling who shouldn’t be allowed out at family functions.    Love Actually has complex, well-rounded characters and rich, rewarding story lines.  He’s Just Not That Into You… doesn’t.   

The film is the cinematic demonstration of the philosophy presented in the self-help book of the same name by comedian Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.  It is a simple philosophy: Women (and the occasional token man) cannot get it into their thick heads when guys (and the occasional token gal) are not interested in them.  When I first heard this film was in the works, I was curious to see how exactly two screenwriters (Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein) and a director (Ken Kwapis) adapt a self-help book for the screen.  Well, I found out.  At least in this case, they take a few of the author’s key points, turn them into too many story lines and fill them out with one-dimensional characters who serve the plot (incidentally, in most great films, the plot serves the characters, not the other way around).  For example, what better way to dramatize the admonition, “He’s Just Not That Into You …If He Doesn’t Call”, than by creating a super-needy single girl (Gigi, played by Ginnifer Goodwin) whose sole purpose in life seems to be obsessing over the guy she just met by checking her cell phone every ten seconds?  Although Gigi is arguably the linchpin character in the piece, we learn little more about her than she is desperate to be liked and can’t tell when she isn’t.  Fortunately for her, she meets Alex (Justin Long), who is more than happy to play life coach (presumably the human embodiment of the original source material in the film).  He bluntly informs her, in no uncertain terms, that each guy she meets is absolutely not interested, then proceeds to send mixed signals himself.  I absolutely love Ginnifer Goodwin.  She is sublime as the third wife on HBO’s Big Love, but this material would make Meryl Streep annoying.  It is not her fault.

Like, Gigi, “insecure, obsessed girl”, every character in the film fits a simple label.  In “…If He’s Sleeping With Someone Else”, Jennifer Connelly is the “suffering wife”, Bradley Cooper the “trapped, philandering husband” and Scarlett Johanssen the “hot other woman”.  That leads us to the token dense guy Conor (played by Entourage’s Kevin Connolly) who can’t figure out that Scarlett Johanssen wants the married guy instead of him.  (Entitled “… If She Won’t Sleep With You”)  

In “…If He Won’t Marry You”, Ben Affleck is “afraid to make things legal guy” and Jennifer Aniston is “desperate to walk down the aisle girl”.  This one is especially baffling because these are two seemingly happy people whose only problem is their differing views on tying the knot.  And there seem to be no good reasons for this except that, as everyone knows, women want to get married and men do not.  The conflict feels manufactured.  Aside from Jen and Ben’s complete lack of on-screen chemistry of any kind, these two crazy kids shouldn’t have a care in the world.

The final storyline is Drew Barrymore’s, whose title just might be, “… If You’re the Producer of the Movie and You Want To Be In It”.   Drew’s character, Mary, is having difficulty navigating the dating waters of new technology, so her gay confidante/coworkers help her.  That’s it.  Seriously.

To be fair to Ken Kwapis, the film is directed competently.  To be fair to the large, accomplished cast, it is acted, with a couple possible exceptions, about as well as can be expected.  The problem, as usual, is in the screenplay.  The writers worked so hard to translate amateur pop-psychology into the language of film they forgot to give the audience something (or someone) to root for.   

If Ginnifer Goodwin’s character was a fully realized person who fell for the wrong guy and couldn’t quite accept that he didn’t love her back, instead of wanting ANY guy who liked her, regardless of how she felt about him, we might root for her.  If Ben and Jen’s characters were flawed humans (with chemistry) who were struggling to figure out how to be individuals as well as a couple, we might root for them.  Since, however, the film is filled with caricatures instead of characters, I’m just not into it at all.

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