Friday, February 6, 2009

Movie Review: He's Just Not That Into You (Note: I've been to Baltimore and no one looks like this.)

Just too many people to try and fit on one poster as well as in one movie. (For you cave dwellers, left to right: Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Connolly, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Justin Long, Bradley Cooper and Ginnifer Goodwin.)

He's Just Not That Into You opens tonight nationwide and one cannot only assume that thousands upon thousands of ladies and their reluctant dates will be flocking to theaters all across this fair nation to see it, but also that some of these otherwise intelligent perhaps even productive members of society will actually find that this simplistic and insulting take on a microcosm of human behavior rings true - which is really scary. Filled with stupid women (save maybe one) and stupid and/or schmucky men, HJNTIY confirms all the reasons why thankfully many Americans really don't like these sorts of movies and begs the question - why the hell do they get made in the first place?

Based on self help handbook by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo bearing the same name, He's Just Not That Into You follows several relationships in varying stages through the (white) middle class Baltimore* mating game: the "just friends", the marrieds, the unmarried long-termers, the hopelessly single technology dependent 30 something surrounded (literally) by her gays and finally the nice guy attempting to catch the un-catchable hotness that is the character played by Scarlett Johansson. Featuring an ensemble of friendly and dependable faces from TV and film, HJNTIY attempts to craft multiple intersecting story lines into one big lesson on love that succeeds in a few spots but ultimately leaves one feeling “meh” about the whole shebang. It’s hard to put the blame on one specific area – the infuriatingly obsessive and self-esteem challenged female characters, the trite dialogue and thematic repetition or the general identity crisis of this inaccurately labeled romantic comedy.

HJNTIY spends the entire time dissecting standard relationship clich├ęs that when they do in fact come to fruition they are even more sickeningly sweet than when movies just blatantly follow the damn formulas. For an ensemble romantic comedy intended to demystify the hunt for a soul mate, it's surprisingly unfunny despite the efforts of talented actors. And like the dating game itself; it's simply exhausting. Gigi, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, is perhaps the most cringe inducing and elicited many a groan from mostly males in the otherwise very easily to please audience as the clueless pupil to Justin Long's dating guru embodying the main themes of the source material. And a very pointy Jennifer Connelly portrays a renovation obsessed wife wound so tight I think I actually clenched up a little every time she was on screen. One track and one dimensional - who are these women? More importantly, who are these people that write them?

HJNTIY is not without its bright spots and if you’re looking for a little schadenfreude it might be for you. Jennifer Aniston is one of the few smart and empathetic characters despite having been forced play opposite with an oddly vacant and painfully vanilla Ben Affleck. Long's jerky truth-sayer embodies the author’s spirit well as his character basically says the same few catch phrases over and over again until the very end when....well, I won't ruin that extremely surprising revelation for you. I'm not a total jerk after all.

Funny, this flick has a lot of ladies in it, but are never not taking about dudes.

But even good actors can't save this painfully shallow script that takes shots at heteros and homos alike in order to get its equally as shallow message across. For some reason this takes 129 minutes even though it only takes about 3 seconds for a person to just say no to a second date. Are there really no original scripts out there than can humorously and a little more realistically examine the contemporary American dating scene? HJNTIY makes Bridget Jones looks like Gloria Steinem.


So in the spirit of public service (if 60 or so regular readers can be considered "the public"), I offer a list of "chick flicks" that would be cheaper to rent and much much better than HJNTIY.

Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990, Juliet Stevenson & Alan Rickman): Great dialogue, whimsical without being silly and beautifully shot. Think a British Ghost. Queue it up now.

In Her Shoes (2005, Cameron Diaz & Toni Collette): Not so romantic, but definitely chickie. Well written, complex, compelling female leads AND Shirley MacLain - it's just a solid little movie (and shot in Philly!).

Frankie and Johnny (1991, Al Pacino & Michelle Pfeiffer): You've seen it, you know. It's beauty and the beast in late 80's NYC - what's not to like?

Muriel's Wedding (1994, Toni Collette & Rachel Griffiths): Funny, strange and disturbing - it's just good stuff.

13 Going on 20 (2004, Jennifer Garner & Mark Ruffalo): Look it's probably on TBS right now, so no effort there. What's great about this ridiculous yet very self aware movie is how Jennifer Garner completely commits to the role. It also features the bestest of the chick flick cliches: childhood love found again, photo shoot montage, and of course - the group choreographed dance. If you don't like Thriller, you're probably a communist.

*Shooting locations include Burbank, LA, Portland and London - but sadly, not Baltimore.