Directed by: Donald Petrie
Starring: Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg, Robert Klein, Bebe Neuwirth
As one who actually tends to like romantic comedies, I'm moved to confess that I was more or less looking forward to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days -- and there were things about the movie that I did indeed like.
But in between those things, I found myself with plenty of time to muse about the formulaic nature of the genre and, specifically, the two basic variations in approach that the makers of such films can take. Compare How to Lose a Guy with Two Weeks Notice, which is every inch a personality vehicle tailored to the already established talents and screen personas of stars Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. How to Lose a Guy works in a different manner in that it takes two known commodities -- Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey -- who have not yet become so established in the moviegoer's mind. This leaves How to Lose a Guy in the position of being more about the story and the characters than it is about its stars.
The very fact that I could think about this difference while the film was still running indicates that something about this approach was a little wrong-headed -- at least with this material and with this director. The plot, the characters and the way it all plays out are just too paper-thin to work without that movie-star hook to hold it all together. But before we settle in to blaming the script on its own merits, it's worth noting that the film as it stands is not, according to director Donald Petrie, the script as it was originally submitted.
Petrie objected to the script having its leads end up in bed on their second date and wouldn't agree to the film unless it was rewritten extensively -- apparently because he wouldn't want his 12-year-old daughter to see it otherwise. I'm sure that's admirable, but I'm not wholly comfortable with a world where what is and isn't acceptable in a movie is arbitrated by Donald Petrie's kid. For that matter, I can't help but question Petrie's sense of priorities for not having any problem with a screenplay that centers on two people who are romancing each other in order to advance their careers. That, after all, is the basic setup of the movie.
Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is dating Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey) in order to write an article about how to drive a boyfriend away in 10 days. Benjamin is dating her in order to snag a big advertising account with a diamond merchant -- he has to prove to his boss that he understands what women want and that he can make a girl fall in love with him in 10 days. These are not the two most scrupulous folks on the planet, but they at least have the Petrie seal of approval in the coitus department. In any case, somewhere in all this, How to Lose a Guy lost its edge and went straight for the romantic-comedy formula at its most basic, trudging its trite and true way through our characters inevitably falling in love and then learning the Awful Truth about each other, followed by a full reel of moping about until True Love conquers all.
Of course, you expect all this, but does it have to be so mind-numbingly cliched that it includes a sequence in which Benjamin teaches Andie how to ride a motorcycle (complete with pop ballad to accompany the scene)? And to prove that the movie's not just some tired reshuffling of a 1959 Doris Day flick, they've thoughtfully added a gaseous uncle for Benjamin, thereby ensuring maximum modern hilarity value. Regardless of its FQ (that's Flatulence Quotient), it still plays out like a rather mean-spirited variant on a 1959 Doris Day vehicle -- something exacerbated by slapping "Isn't It Romantic?" and "That Old Black Magic" on the soundtrack during the film's big party scene. (They're great songs, yes, but let's face facts -- they're only in the movie because Paramount's owned the rights to them for 70 years.)
The movie isn't entirely a disaster. Long stretches are actually quite funny, but what makes How to Lose a Guy ultimately worth your consideration is the dynamite teaming of Hudson and McConaughey. There's real chemistry between the two -- the kind that has nothing to do with the script or the direction. The movie may be lame in most respects, but these two actors aren't. In fact, it's a great recovery for Hudson after being wasted in last year's The Four Feathers and an even greater one for McConaughey after his sooted-up turn as a shaved-headed dragon fighter in the abysmal Reign of Fire. For them alone, this little movie might be worth seeing.