I watch an inordinate amount of romantic comedies. It’s a pain I bring on myself, of course; I’m the eternal optimist, hoping to find a decent one every few years, one that will bolster my spirits over the next few months and years until another slightly better than mediocre one comes along. But in my rom-com travails, I’ve discovered that there is one brand of romantic comedy that I loathe even more than the gimmicky, gotta-find-a-man variety. With atrocious movies like New in Town, 27 Dresses, Bride Wars or, undoubtedly, next week’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, at least they don’t pretend to be anything other than light and fluffy (though incredible insipid) entertainment; they’re wish-fulfillment films for simpering singletons or mindless escapism for smug marrieds. But He’s Just Not That Into You has got to be one of the absolute worst in recent memory. Why? Because it’s no better than Bride Wars or 27 Dresses, but it pretends to be. It pretends to be an insightful movie, one full of self-help witticisms and meaningful relationship advice. It’s not. It’s torturous drivel — a long series of platitudes wrapped around a wet, gooey center of suck. The only difference between this one and others is the sheer amount of Hollywood celebrities that were roped into playing bit roles and a two-hour plus running time, which only serves to belabor the film’s emptiness.
Given the number of familiar faces in He’s Just Not That Into You, I won’t bother to provide their character names — it’s just too much to keep up with. Ginnifer Goodwin is the film’s central character — she’s a pathetic, cyber-stalking romantic who obsesses over her dates’ every gesture and every word searching for its intended meaning. Her dates, quick to realize that she’s clingy and slightly neurotic, soon lose interest in her, and she spends her days suffering next to the phone and going over her experiences, rehashing her run-ins with her friends, playing the insufferable optimist. That is, until she meets Justin Long (who, by the by, was her love interest in “Ed,” as I recall). Justin Long acts as her male confidante — setting her straight on the inner-workings of the male mind until, of course, they realize that they’re meant for one another.
Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper is married to Jennifer Connelly. He’s an asshole who is also sleeping with Scarlett Johansson, who is, herself, leading on “Entourage’s” Kevin Connolly, keeping him as her safety in case things go awry with Cooper. Jennifer Connelly, who has some serious trust issues, tries to catch Cooper in a lie about smoking cigarettes, which inadvertently unravels his affair and simultaneously does in his relationship with Johansson. Elsewhere, Drew Barrymore is attempting to find her man online, trying to update her MySpace profile into a long-term relationship, while taking advice from her cadre of gay male friends.
It’s all remarkably stupid, and the constant self-reflection and sign reading could only be familiar to teenagers in 1992, back before mobile devices, text-messaging capabilities, and general online omniscience made it impossible not to glean your love interest’s intentions fairly quickly. The conversations that take place in the film — mostly by women in their late 20s and 30s — are very similar to conversations I had with friends when I was 15, before we wizened up enough to cut through the bullshit and stop wasting our lives checking to see if the phone cord was still attached to the phone (a gag played for laughs in He’s Just Not That Into You for something like the 892nd time in cinematic history).
Lookit: If you’re actually looking for relationship advice, let me offer you some by way of example. In a one year period in the early aughts, I was — for the first time since 9th grade — not in a lengthy relationship with anyone. That year, I spent five nights a week in a bar; I made out with a lot of women I never spoke to again; and I woke up several times in the Boston Commons. My life was cram full of drama, and it was the most miserable twelve months of my life. Then I met my wife; we went to a bar, where we spent six hours talking, drinking, and smoking ourselves hoarse. At the end of the night, I walked her to the subway and said I wasn’t interested in a mandated telephone call waiting period. I asked her to call the next day. She did, and we moved in together six weeks later. Now, I pick up my kid’s food castoffs every night, I put away the dishes, and try to find a few hours each week to watch “30 Rock” with my wife and read some alphabet book with my son. It is a dull motherfucking existence. I’ve never been so happy in all my goddamn life.
The point is: The best relationship advice is that there is no good relationship advice, and you sure as hell don’t need a self-help book or a movie to tell you that. It’s all bullshit. In fact, the only person in all of He’s Just Not That Into You that acquits himself well is Ben Affleck. In the film, he’s been living with Jennifer Aniston for seven years, unmarried and completely content with their marital tedium until she demands a proposal. There’s never any doubt in their tiny subplot that Affleck is in love with her, and he knows exactly what he wants: A return to their domestic tedium.
That’s why I think that Say Anything is the perfect romantic comedy: There is never any doubt as to the affection Lloyd Dobbler and Diane Court have for one another. They don’t have to overcome moments of weakness, commitment issues, or insipid miscommunications. They have to overcome circumstances. But as soon as Lloyd helps Diane over the broken glass, there’s not a question that they love each other. There’s no gamesmanship. No waiting by the phone. No big speech asking for forgiveness after a preposterous misstep. There’s just finding a way to be together. And that’s what’s wrong with most romantic comedies and, He’s Just Not That Into You, in particular: They complicate the courtship. But if the “that into you” is reciprocal, the courtship shouldn’t be particularly problematic. The rub is cutting through life to make it all work.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in Portland, Maine with his wife and son. You can email him here or leave a comment below.
He's Just Not That Into You / Dustin Rowles
Film | February 6, 2009 | Comments ()