February 02, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



He's Just Not That Into You

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-02-06

Running Length:

2:05

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Situations, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2:35:1

Cast:

Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, Kevin Connolly, Kris Kristofferson

Director:

Ken Kwapis

Screenplay:

Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein, based on the book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

Cinematography:

John Bailey

Music:

Cliff Eidelman

U.S. Distributor:

New Line Cinema

Subtitles:

none


He's Just Not That Into You seeks to mine the same vein of romantic comedy ore as Love, Actually - the multi-arc story in which characters cross each others' paths and interact in an attempt to show different facets of one emotion. Unfortunately, while Love, Actually succeeded in providing well-developed characters in (mostly) interesting situations, He's Just Not That Into You is often flat with subplots that feel rushed and/or contrived. The comedy is perfunctory, almost as if the filmmakers wanted their child to be a drama but didn't feel confident enough in the material to proceed without a layer of false levity to keep things from becoming too serious.

As is typically the case with ensemble movies, some of the tales are more interesting than others. In He's Just Not That Into You, there are four primary segments. The first, which consumes the most screen time and is also arguably the least compelling, centers on wallflower Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) and bartender/player Alex (Justin Long). The two meet at his club and he gives her advice about why men don't call back some women. Thereafter, she seeks him out whenever she has questions about dating or male/female relationships. They become friends, but she misreads his intentions… or does she?

Then there's Gigi's co-worker, Beth (Jennifer Aniston), who has been living with her boyfriend, Neil (Ben Affleck), for seven years. Tired of always being a bridesmaid but never a bride, she gives him a matrimonial ultimatum. When he replies that he's morally opposed to the concept of marriage, he finds himself in need of a new place to live. Gigi's best friend is Janine (Jennifer Connelly), who is married to Ben (Bradley Cooper). They are comfortable in their union and have just purchased a new house that they're fixing up. But they're not having sex, making Ben ripe prey for Anna (Scarlett Johansson), an attractive yoga instructor/musician he meets at the supermarket. Anna is currently involved with Connor (Kevin Connolly), Alex's best friend, but it's a relationship she deems to be disposable. The fourth story, which feels shoehorned into the overall plot, involves Mary (Drew Barrymore), an ad executive who communicates exclusively through e-mail and texting, and views "having coffee with someone" as chatting with them on-line while both of them sip from a cup.

The relationship that works the best is the Janine/Ben/Anna/Connor foursome, which involves the most "real" depiction of human interaction and the least quantity of saccharine. The actors play their parts convincingly and things aren't wrapped up in a tidy package, complete with a bow and ribbon. This is how life and love often play out - in bursts that are sometimes giddy and sometimes heartbreaking. Had this story been expanded to encompass an entire movie, it likely would have been worth the time needed to watch it.

There's a lot of potential in the Beth/Neil episode, as well, although a lot of it goes unrealized and is marred by a too-predictable and unreasonably sunny resolution. The middle segment, with Beth caring for her ailing father (Kris Kristofferson) is moving, especially when it contrasts her actions with those of her sisters and depicts how happiness in a relationship is not defined by the existence or lack thereof of a marriage license.

The Gigi/Alex friendship-cum-affair is the least credible of the storylines. Not only is it painfully contrived but Gennifer Goodwin's too-chipper performance is annoying. Even in the most obviously scripted of romantic comedies, viewers would be hard-pressed to swallow this sort of character interaction, and the lack of chemistry between Goodwin and Long kills any hope of it being believed. Goodwin has shown that she can provide strong, effective portrayals (such as the one she gives as the youngest wife on Big Love), but He's Just Not That Into You does not represent her finest hour.

Finally, there's Mary, whose insertion into the movie is something of a mystery. (I suppose she's here because the character is in the book.) She could easily be deleted and the only sacrifice would be about 15 minutes sliced off the running time. Besides providing a mouthpiece about the stale topic of how complicated dating has become in an electronic world, this character adds nothing in the way of substance and, when she eventually stumbles into a relationship, it's unsatisfying because we don't know enough about her to care one way or the other.

The director is Ken Kwapis, a man whose primary credits are from television. He did, however, navigate the tricky waters of an ensemble tale with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Here, he's not as successful. Paradoxically, while all of the stories would benefit from more screen time and there's often a sense that random scenes have been ruthlessly trimmed, the movie as a whole runs too long. The problem is character investment. We care about a few of these individuals, but not all of them, and when the ones we're interested aren't around, we lose focus. This makes the movie a solid choice for at-home viewing, when the fast-forward button is available, but not such a great selection for Valentine's Day in a theater.

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