The smirky, overbearing and subliminally hostile romantic primer He’s Just Not That Into You — which sold a regrettable two million copies when it was published in 2004 — seizes on some partial truths about the gender wars and blows them up into evolutionary gospel, as follows: Since cave-dwelling times, men have been programmed to chase. They hate being chased, lie through their teeth as needed, and resist marriage to the death. Women, by contrast, make a beeline for unavailable men, willfully misinterpret and overanalyze their signals, and sit around waiting for suitors to call/text/Facebook them, when it’s obvious that the unreliable swine have moved on to their next conquests. The book’s title is taken from a scene in Sex and the City and hinges on the solipsistic worldview of series consultant Greg Behrendt, with faint murmurs of watery feminist protest from co-writer Liz Tuccillo. Behrendt coyly fesses up to being a reformed rascal, then steams full speed ahead to the conclusion that if he’s that way, then so, too, is the rest of mankind. Further, he is the one to set us myopic females straight and empower us to live rich, productive lives regardless of whether we manage to land one of the few golden exceptions to his he-man rule.
Behrendt’s know-it-all bossiness may work for a putative self-help handbook, but it doesn’t set quite the right tone for a chick flick aimed at a generation of females who, whether they know it or not, have been sufficiently empowered by the women’s movement to want to direct their own lives. Which is just one of the challenges facing director Ken Kwapis and writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who are charged with hacking a romantic comedy out of a plotless collection of cardboard characters and one man’s full-service guide for the ditzy dater. And they don’t come much ditzier than Gigi, nicely played by the adorably hamster-cheeked Ginnifer Goodwin as if practicing to be Sally Field. Though she shares an office with two older, maritally challenged BFFs (the Jennifers Aniston and Connelly) — whose own romantic troubles pipe a limp chorus to her full-blown love addiction — Gigi doesn’t discernibly work. This leaves her free to stage drive-by snoops on an elusive Realtor (Kevin Connolly), or sit by her exceedingly pink phone, endlessly dissecting his every mixed message with Behrendt’s alter ego, guy-pal Justin Long, who, along with the countless gay men popping up as water-cooler therapists in current chick flicks, has Gigi all figured out. Except that this being a film beamed at girls and gays, he can’t just be right about everything. He must also show himself, when push comes to shove, inferior in character to his protégé, as well as in need of enlightenment regarding his own failure to commit.
Kwapis, whose résumé competently, if programmatically, spans the sincere (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) to the insane (The Office), is a comedy pro with enough finesse to smooth over Cara Silverman’s banal, slapdash editing. He’s also softened Behrendt’s ego and thrown some smarts the way of at least some of the women. If all you ask for is a few gay jokes, a perky score, pretty shots of Baltimore, and some clever but callow observations of sexual mores in the city, He’s Just Not That Into You is an amiable enough night out.
What’s depressing about this movie and others like it is the low bar it sets for both modern women and the movies that seek to represent them. That Warner Bros. has issued a companion featurette highlighting the 10 chick-flick clichés you won’t find in He’s Just Not That Into You suggests some well-founded anxiety about precisely this issue, as well as an obliviousness to its own overly familiar characters, who include the obligatory siren hard body (a hammy Scarlett Johansson) bent on wrecking a home — and guess who ends up unattached? That women are supporting this rubbish behind and in front of the camera (Drew Barrymore is an executive producer, and has a small role as the kind of nice girl a guy with a wandering eye can finally settle down with) is dismaying. Even more disappointing are the massive female audiences who will flock to this movie as they did to its forerunner, Sex and the City — and Mamma Mia! last year — and leave death threats in the comments section of reviewers who beg to differ.
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU | Directed by KEN KWAPIS | Written by ABBY KOHN and MARC SILVERSTEIN, based on the book by GREG BEHRENDT and LIZ TUCCILLO | Produced by NANCY JUVONEN | Released by Warner Bros. | Citywide