February 5, 2009

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He’s Just Not That Into You (PG-13)
A bunch of attractive people in upscale Baltimore date and flirt and agonize over their love lives in He’s Just Not That Into You, a rom-com that wants to be more than just your average romantic comedy.

Gigi (Gennifer Goodwin) has plunged with both feet into the search for love. At the end of a date with Conor (Kevin Connolly), she’s certain they made a connection and suspects that even as they’re walking away from each other he’s calling to leave a message on her home phone. He isn’t; he’s calling his occasional girlfriend Anna (Scarlett Johansson), who at that moment is ignoring his call in order to strike up a flirtation with Ben (Bradley Cooper).

Ben might pretend to hold back but we know he’s going to happily succumb to Anna’s flirtiness, even though he’s married to Janine (Jennifer Connelly). She’s the slightly older and wiser voice of reason who talks down the constantly-on-edge Gigi and who reassures the tense Beth (Jennifer Aniston).

Beth has been in a very long-term relationship with Neil (Ben Affleck) but Neil doesn’t believe in marriage, much to her dismay. At least Neil’s committed — Alex (Justin Long) doesn’t even believe in getting emotionally involved and so he holds all his fleeting female companions at arm’s length. It’s from this lofty height that he’s able to tell the desperate Gigi when a guy’s just not that into her.

Drew Barrymore, who has an executive producer credit here, also has a minor role. Her job is primarily to complain about the technological advances in dating, such as the one that requires you to figure out the import placed on a MySpace note versus a text. In terms of percentage of screen time, she appears much more in the trailer than in the actual movie, but she does get to deliver a funny line here and there, like the one about being “rejected by seven different technologies.”

And, undeniably, many of those lines are funny. Modern love — from dating to cohabitating to marriage to breaking up — has plenty to comment on, and humor is likely the best way to do it. The biggest problem with He’s Just Not That Into You is that its desire to be honest about certain love-related things smacks pretty hard into its desire to give you the girlie uplift that a movie like this needs to give its audience after two hours of putting its characters through the wringer. Marriage isn’t the happy ending — it’s the beginning of something that can go either way; following your heart (say, into bed with a married man) doesn’t always lead to good things; sometimes you have to compromise to get some of what you want. All of these are realistic points that the movie clearly wants to make. But it’s hard to sell “sometimes you’re better off alone” and “they all lived happily ever after” at the same time. The movie tries but it isn’t totally successful, nor is it as girl-power-y as you’d want from such position. So perhaps “sometimes things kinda suck” is where the movie was going, except it isn’t quite smart enough for that either. And, with this many characters, it’s hard not to over-simplify the course of relationships and then tie it up as neat as the end of a Jane Austen book.

I liked He’s Just Not That Into You more than I tend to like this kind of movie even if it doesn’t offer the kind of gooey candy goodness of an escapist romantic comedy or the quirky genuineness that its hipster indie siblings attempt. The central characters fall more or less into two categories — predictably blah but basically fine (Johansson, Cooper, Affleck and Long) or dorky but interesting (Goodwin and Aniston — Connelly falls somewhere in between). I would have liked to see a bit more of Goodwin (and a bit more common sense; her character seems to have arrived at mid-20s straight from the seventh grade) and Aniston (who, along with Connelly, helped to keep “romance” from being something that only happens to those under 30).

He’s Just Not That Into You isn’t, in the vocabulary of dating-advice books like the one it’s loosely based on, Mr. Right. But I suppose it does make a serviceable Mr. Right Now. B-

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language. Directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (from the book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo), He’s Just Not That Into You is two hours and nine minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.