Review: He's Just Not That Into You
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund
There's a line exchange in “He's Just Not That Into You,” the new ensemble comedy based on the science-of-romance bestseller by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo, that officially brands it with a born-on date – and the date isn't 2009. Mary, a magazine editor played by Drew Barrymore, confides in her crew of flamboyant friends that her latest crush “MySpaced” her. With a bewildered grimace, one of the friends tells her that “MySpace is the new booty call.” The problem is, in 2009, MySpace isn't really the new anything. By 2019, the social networking platform will inarguably be centuries old in sci-tech years. Behrendt's and Tucillo's book, inspired by an episode of “Sex and the City,” was published in 2004 – right around the time when MySpace exploded. New Line Cinema's movie version, directed by Ken Kwapis (“Licensed to Wed”), finished shooting in 2007 – right around the time when Facebook exploded. Two years later, the dating game hasn't changed much, but the way we talk about it has, and “He's Just Not That Into You,” a movie that tries to be an encyclopedia on modern love, feels a little behind the times. But, man, if it doesn't boast one heck of an all-star cast, capable of charming the pants off of any audience in any era.
Like “Traffic” with dinner dates, the Baltimore-set film consists of a road map of storylines, all of which are not-so-surprisingly interconnected. There's Mary, who's gal pals with yoga instructor Anna (Scarlett Johansson), who's uncontrollably drawn to lawyer Ben (Bradley Cooper), who's married to spice company marketer Janine (Jennifer Connelly), who works with unhappily unmarried Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and hopeless romantic Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), who gets dating advice from bar owner Alex (Justin Long), who's buddies with serial dater and real estate agent Connor (Kevin Connolly), who's in love with Anna and buys ad space from Mary. There are more connections, and even more characters, like Neil (Ben Affleck), Beth's boyfriend who doesn't believe in marriage. Screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”) take the book's self-help format and transform it into an engaging narrative, employing that popular small-world concept that's often a great fit for the microcosms movies create. When it's revealed that Ben is also best friends with Neil, or that Anna is also using Connor on the side, we modern moviegoers aren't exactly shocked, but there's still a thrill to be had in those “ah-ha!” moments.
The entire cast is wonderful, and though we relate to some characters more than others, we pretty much root for all of them. As Gigi, Goodwin nabs her first starring role, narrating the movie and using that same lovable naivete she exercises on HBO's “Big Love” to enchant a whole new audience. It's been rumored that Goodwin, all smiles and dimples, avoided reading the source material until after production wrapped. In doing so, the actress turns in an endearing performance that's anything but by the book. Long proves he's far beyond embodying a computer in Apple commercials, displaying a gravitas that surpasses his comedic work. Oscar-winner Connelly brings some reverence and maturity to the table, even though she's playing a woman in need of personal growth. Aniston has never been better on the big screen, finally able to express the thoughts and feelings of her character and not just bounce around the set. The relationship between Beth and Neil is the film's most lived-in and heartwarming, thanks also to Affleck, who toned himself up and down for his role. Even the people we're meant to hate win our affections, such as the two-timing Ben, whom soon-to-be superstar Cooper makes sympathetic despite his wrongdoings.
Where these people go and what they do is easy (and fun) to follow, but the sheer abundance of them causes some stories to feel less urgent and more distracting. Barrymore's bit, specifically, is superfluous to the plot, and seems to pop up just to deliver that dangerously dated techie lingo. The 33-year-old actress – who also served as executive producer – is adorable as usual, and the fate of her character will draw many smiles, but the movie would have been stronger and more succinct if she had stayed behind the camera. Another misstep is the strange and random wasting of respectable talents like Kris Kristofferson and Luis Guzman, who play Beth's ailing father and Janine's contractor, respectively, and are given very few lines. I could move on to grumble about cinematographer John Bailey's semi-sloppy camerawork, which tends to cut actors off at the neck and turn them into talking heads, but that would just be nitpicking.
“He's Just Not That Into You” is a real crowd-pleaser – it's funny, it's sharper than most titles of its kind, it's heartfelt, and it's extremely accessible (watch out for chapter stops in which even more actors break down the book's famous “rules,” confessional style, and basically describe everyone's dating experiences). I, for one, was pleasantly caught off-guard by how much I came to care about most of the inhabitants of the film's vine-ridden jungle of mixed drinks, mixed feelings, and mixed messages. If only the writers had done away with that pesky, time-sensitive, “profile-updating” dialogue – which is good for a laugh and not much else – the movie wouldn't have such a brief and definitive shelf life. Note to filmmakers: if you're going to cook up something that speaks to today's ever-changing culture, you'd best have your fingers on its pulse. Over at HesJustNotThatIntoYouMovie.com, there's a link directing users to the film's Facebook account, not its MySpace profile, proving that a lot of folks are just not that into MySpace anymore. Go figure.