'Just Not That Into You'? Well, Now We Know Why
Friday, February 6, 2009
It's hard to be that into "He's Just Not That Into You," an admittedly ambitious misfire that falls flat when it should fizz. The multilayered story, about five women navigating male treachery by way of marriage, monogamous pair-bonding and the dating scene, is so busy getting all its talking points in that it leaves no room for recognizable life, not to mention verve or even much fun. It's like "Sex and the City" without the shoes or "Mamma Mia!" without the Abba.
As the movie's uniformly attractive protagonists rehearse the movie's core philosophical questions -- loosely aggregated under the rubric of Why Are Men Such Dogs? -- they wind up turning a romantic comedy into one long romantic complaint. They're the sisterhood of the caviling rants.
Which isn't to say that "He's Just Not That Into You," which is based on a book that itself was based on an episode of "Sex and the City," doesn't possess its share of cathartic giggles, especially in the peppery vignettes that illustrate each of the movie's "chapters" ("If he's not calling you . . . ," "If she's not sleeping with you . . . "). Indeed, these brief asides are often more pungent and vivid than the narrative they punctuate, a narrative propelled by young, spoiled, self-involved women in various stages of self-deception.
Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) throws herself headlong into every relationship she's in, even if it's just a first date. After an encounter with a cocky real estate agent named Conor (Kevin Connolly), she waits breathlessly for the callback that's clearly never going to come, compulsively checking her voice mail and making sure her phone line is working.
Gigi works -- or at least we're made to assume that she works, since we rarely see any of the movie's characters engaging in anything resembling productive labor -- at a spice company, along with Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and Beth (Jennifer Aniston), each of whom is having relationship problems of her own. Janine's husband, Ben (Bradley Cooper), is oddly distant when they talk about what color to paint a room in their newly renovated house, and Beth's boyfriend of seven years, Neil (Ben Affleck), refuses to get married, resulting in his moving out of the couple's football-field-size loft and into his slightly less spacious sailboat.
"He's Just Not That Into You" is putatively set in Baltimore, but it really takes place in the mythical Land of Great Living Spaces, where everyone is young, attractive, affluent and white (the only people of color in this strangely mono-hued movie appear in one of the funnier interstitial scenes, one brief and anonymous booty call and a breathtakingly patronizing opening sequence set in Africa). Even the film's resident bohemian, a femme fatale singer named Anna, lives in a cozy little studio to die for.
Anna, by the way, is played by Scarlett Johansson, whose predatory voluptuousness takes over every scene she's in, as if a Macy's Thanksgiving Day float constructed entirely of lips, breasts and hips had suddenly barged into the frame. Counseled by her vaguely dippy best friend, Mary (Drew Barrymore), Anna makes a play for a man otherwise spoken for, even while she strings another one along with a tantalizingly cruel series of feints and mixed signals.
The character who delivers what amounts to the titular pronouncement of "He's Just Not That Into You" is a restaurant manager named Alex (Justin Long), a cynical, snarky womanizer who befriends the befuddled Gigi and talks her through the meta-messages that men routinely send women and that women routinely refuse to accept. These home truths are what give an otherwise shallow and synthetic exercise a dash of genuine freshness, especially when the film is observing the way women "support" one another by aiding and abetting almost pathological denial.
But these fleeting hints of honesty, however modest and manufactured, make it all the more disappointing when "He's Just Not That Into You" pulls its punches at the last moment, playing into the very ring-on-the-finger fantasies that it just spent two hours bitterly deconstructing.
Admittedly, these times call for escapism, not evisceration. "He's Just Not That Into You" stands poised to do boffo business as an ideal night out for the same packs of merrily well-heeled girlfriends who made last summer's chick flicks such hits.
As such, "He's Just Not That Into You" isn't a movie as much as a destination, like a spa or one of the Napa Valley wineries Gigi dreams of for her imaginary wedding. It's the movie equivalent of a quick mani-pedi, with pleasures that go just about as deep, and last just about as long.
He's Just Not That Into You (129 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong profanity.