He's Just Not That Into You opens today in select theaters
He's Just Not That Into You stretches a load of rom-com conventions across a half dozen stories, giving the movie the opportunity to employ a gaggle of preppy, straight, white actors and watch them joke and despair over their dates, marriages and home remodelings on clinically clean synthetic sets.
It's no surprise that the women fare poorly: a middle-aged woman who wants to get married (Jennifer Aniston); a busty, blonde temptress (Scarlett Johansson); a prim wife who can't hold onto her man (Jennifer Connelly); and a virginal sweetheart (Ginnifer Goodwin) who stares at the phone waiting for it to ring. For good measure, Into You throws in a kooky, struggling single woman who can't figure out all the wacky communication technology people use these days (Drew Barrymore). The poor thing still uses MySpace—oh, these crazy, changing times!
To be fair, there's no pretension that these are more than character types. Into You attempts to draw a cross-section of contemporary relationships by arranging these types in semi-humorous situations, but winds up taking them way too seriously. By tackling so many story lines, the movie misses out on what can be enjoyable (and, for me, addictive) about formulaic romantic comedies: watching one couple go through the stages of meeting, falling in love, facing obstacles and eventually getting together.
The opening narration would have us believe that this is a story about how women need to break from clingy and desperate behavior. (I don't know any women this clueless and obnoxious. Are they only in Maryland?) Goodwin, self-conscious in the ingénue role, embodies those learned behaviors rather than transcending them, even though her story arc is supposed to illustrate an awakening. As the luckless single girl, Goodwin is bland and difficult to root for. Someone funnier, like Judy Greer (who has paid her dues in best friend roles for long enough), might have been able to save this part.
Even though there isn't much dynamism in the material or the performances of Into You, watching stars be stars, reinforcing their public personae or reinventing their images of themselves, always offers a certain level of pleasure. In the Ben Affleck-Jennifer Aniston storyline, Jen wants to marry Ben—I mean, "Beth" is sick of waiting for longtime boyfriend "Neil" to propose to her. She dumps Affleck, who plays Neil as a guy who's been beaten up emotionally, who maybe deserves it, but doesn't feel like there's much he can do about it. This seems to come from years of Affleck being in over his head, having won an Oscar for co-writing a screenplay, then being beaten up for being more of a celebrity than an actor. After all, is that really his fault?
Aniston, the prism through which tabloids see middle-age singlehood, gets some good screen time defending the idea that a woman mustn't be married to be human. In what seems a decent bargain, she will let Affleck come back without a ring on the condition that he doesn't bring his cargo pants with him. Occasionally, I can't help but wonder if Aniston could still develop into an interesting actress. Has it really been seven years since The Good Girl?
These little enjoyments would enhance He's Just Not That Into You if it were a slight comedy, only guilty of being short on jokes and location shooting. Unfortunately, it insults its audience and even trespasses against its own title by fabricating a group of needy, silly women and—after playfully acknowledging that some of their efforts to get dates are childish or self-deluding—encourages them to keep up the good fight and eventually they'll win the right man. If that weren't enough, this film has Aniston allowing Affleck to keep his atrocious cargo pants when it turns out that's where he keeps the diamond.