Directed by: Ken Kwapis (License to Wed)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Connelly, Drew Barrymore, Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long
By the 20-minute mark of Ken Kwapis’ interminable He’s Just Not That Into You, I realized I wasn’t that into the movie or anything about it. It’s messy (not in any interesting way), cliché-ridden, predictable, filled with characters so inane that you marvel they made it to adulthood—and dull, dull, dull. I didn’t expect much. Neither the director of the vomitable License to Wed (2007), nor the screenwriters (Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein) of Never Been Kissed (1999), nor the largely B-list cast exactly engendered keen anticipation. The fact that it’s based on a humorous self-help book by Sex and the City consultant (whatever that means) Greg Behrendt and Sex and the City story editor Liz Tuccillo should have, in fact, told the whole story.
What you get for the investment of a whopping 129 minutes of your time are several clumsily interconnected stories following the trial and tribulations of an oversized cast of characters who comport themselves with such calculated stupidity that it’s hard to care about them. We have an on-again, off-again couple, Conor (TV actor Kevin Connolly) and Anna (Scarlett Johansson). Anna “meets cute” with Ben (Bradley Cooper, The Midnight Meat Train), who is in the throes of a troubled marriage with Janine (Jennifer Connelly). Now, Anna is somehow friends with newspaper advertising director Mary (Drew Barrymore), whose own romantic life is nonexistent, but who is all set to advise Anna to pursue married Ben. (Why would you take love-life advice from this woman?)
Then there’s Gigi (TV actress Ginnifer Goodwin), a perennial loser, whose blind date with Conor leads to predictable heartbreak and to Conor’s cynical roommate Alex (Justin Long). Alex is a cheerfully amoral bartender, who proceeds to befriend Gigi with bluntly truthful romantic advice. Somehow happily unmarried couple Neil (Ben Affleck) and Beth (Jennifer Aniston) are shoehorned into the proceedings. Their only problem is that she wants to “make it legal” and he doesn’t. Life lessons are in the offing, you may be sure. And, of course, everyone—with the exception of downscale Gigi—lives in apartments that look like they could be featured in the pages of Architectural Digest. Well, Ben and Janine don’t, but they’re in the process of turning a Baltimore brownstone into a sterile (a comment on their relationship?) 1950s retro showplace. Where does all this money come from?
Woody Allen could have made something out of this, no doubt. Come to think of it, he did. It was called Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)—and you’d be far better off watching that film, which is blessed with the kind of wit and insight that this movie can only dream about. In its place, He’s Just Not That Into You offers us a parade of Rom-Com 101 clichés—some which it insists on expanding. Not content with including the obligatory gay best friend, here we get an ethnically diverse trio of them (the Mod Squad of gay best friends?) offering movie-gay romantic advice. In addition, we get a structure so clunky that it’s quite possible to forget that Drew Barrymore is even in the movie. To this we may add at least one characterization so strange—Jennifer Connelly’s Janine—that it seems to have wandered off the page of some psychological thriller. In fact, I kept expecting her to pick up a Mother Bates butcher knife and go in for some mayhem. (And frankly, I’d have preferred it.)
Ken Kwapis’ direction of all this amounts to blundering and screams of a TV-film mind-set. There is no single moment that is more than utilitarian, and often it’s a good deal less than that. His camera is pitiless in its too-big close-ups of people who are at an age that such shots do them no favors. And while I’ve always admired the fact that Scarlett Johansson is unafraid to appear less than anorexic on-screen, it would never occur to me to position a camera to maximize this in the manner Kwapis does. That it somehow fits the film’s generally unappealing tone is, I’m sure, accidental.
All in all, this is a worthy companion piece to last year’s Sex and the City and The Women—with everything that statement implies. I’ve heard it said that He’s Just Not That Into You is a “good first-date movie,” and there may be some truth to that. I know if I were on a first date and heard my companion laugh or “ooh” and “ahh” at the amassed on-screen insipid antics, I’d think twice before initiating a second date. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language.