A video circulated online last week in which three male cast members from “He’s Just Not That Into You” assured wary men (whose girlfriends will drag them to it) that the film is not a generic “chick flick,” offering as proof a list of 10 chick-flick clichés that the movie does NOT employ. But that video, while funny — funnier than the film, actually — is disingenuous. True, those specific 10 clichés are nowhere to be found. But there were a million others at the filmmakers’ disposal, and full use was made of them. This movie is easily as generic a chick flick as has come down the pike in many a moon.
Based on the dating-advice book of the same name, the film has been sitting on the shelf for a year and a half (evidenced by its now un-hip references to MySpace), perhaps getting broader and longer as it sat. Why, it’s 132 minutes long now! Surely it wasn’t that big when they put it in storage. You gotta watch these things, or they bloat. The movie is so long that by the time it was over, the entire audience was on the same cycle.
But I kid the overlong, watered-down trifle! It’s that long because it has about a dozen characters to deal with, all of them young-ish, attractive, Caucasian, and intersecting with one another in Baltimore. The protagonist, I guess (she’s the narrator, anyway), is Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), a perky and optimistic singleton who anxiously waits by her phone after a date, hoping the guy will call her even though it’s obvious to an impartial observer — or to a sane person — that he’s not going to. It’s a bartender named Alex (Justin Long) who gives her the lowdown on how guys operate: They’re not coy. They don’t play hard-to-get. “If a guy is treating you like he doesn’t give a s***, he genuinely doesn’t give a s***,” Alex says, wisely.
Alex goes on. Those stories you hear where the guy ignored the girl for a month but then they wound up getting married? That’s the exception, not the rule. The rule is that the guy who doesn’t return your calls and breaks dates ISN’T the man of your dreams. The rule is that the guy who’s been living with you for seven years but won’t marry you ISN’T going to marry you. Accept those truths and move on. That’s the theme of the film, that real life isn’t like a cheesy romantic comedy — up until the end, that is, when it changes its mind and goes for the romantic Hollywood storybook ending after all, making the previous two hours pointless. So much for change we can believe in.
Gigi had a date with Alex’s friend Conor (Kevin Connolly), a real estate agent who’s also been dating Anna (Scarlett Johansson), an up-and-coming singer who ran into Ben (Bradley Cooper), who has ties to the music industry and who is happily married to Janine (Jennifer Connelly). Janine works in an office with Gigi and with Beth (Jennifer Aniston), who can’t get her boyfriend of seven years, Neil (Ben Affleck), to marry her. Meanwhile, there’s Anna’s friend Mary (Drew Barrymore), who’s unlucky at love but has a cast of queeny gay guys in her office to give her sassy advice, the “cast of queeny gay guys” having taken the place of the “overweight best friend” when a chick flick needs someone asexual to be deeply interested in the main character’s love life without requiring a love life of their own.
The surfeit of characters means, predictably, that none of them are drawn deeply enough for us to care about them. The likeliest candidate would be Gigi, who’s portrayed at first as an average, normal, plucky gal, only to eventually reveal herself as obsessive, clingy, and crazy. The movie doesn’t seem to realize this, though, which is part of its problem: It thinks it’s being insightful even when it’s being tone-deaf.
The screenplay, by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (the duo behind “Never Been Kissed,” finally getting work again), is full of people waxing philosophical about love, dating, and marriage, but very little of what they say is clever or funny. The stuff that rings true is thunderingly obvious, particularly to a target audience that has either a) read the book, b) been on the dating scene long enough to figure this stuff out, or c) both.
The individual members of the huge ensemble, herded around by director Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”), get by on their pre-existing rapport with the audience: Aniston is sardonic but vulnerable, Connelly is strong and dignified, Barrymore is whatever the hell people like about Barrymore, etc. Some of them garner sympathy automatically, whether the film takes the time to flesh out their characters or not. And there are likable moments here and there — I’m not saying I never laughed. I am saying, though, that I laughed more at that misleading YouTube video, and that as a whole “He’s Just Not That Into You” is just not that good.
C (2 hrs., 12 min.; )