He's Just Not That Into You

A serio romantic comedy that's like “Sex and the City” for the twentysomething and thirtysomething generation, Ken Kwapis' “He's Just Not That Into You” is an ensemble-driven piece that reflects the zeitgeist and how the new technology has changed dating and courtship, marriage and divorce as quintessential rituals in American pop culture.

The link to HBO's hot TV series is obvious: The movie is based on the popular bestseller from “Sex and the City” scribes Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.  That said, it's a pleasure to report that, despite narrative problems and excessive running time, New Line's film is superior to its messy, poorly directed big-screen version of “Sex and City.”

Not surprisingly, the star of the film is the cel phone, which is used in almost every scene, even during sex or right after it.  Hitting its poignant notes is a monologue by Mary (played by Drew Barrymore, who's also credited as exec-producer), when she describes what it's like to routinely check all of her visual and audio machinery and be rejected in each of the seven gadgets she possesses. 

Says Mary: “Things have changed. People don't just meet organically anymore.  If I want to make myself more attractive to the opposite sex, I don't go get a new haircut. I update my profile.” Welcome to the age of MySpace, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and company

In its good moments, which are plentiful, “He's Just” offers observations about first dates, anxiety-ridden waits for the telephone to ring, obsession with marriage, temptations to deviate from monogamy, which range from the cute and trivial to the more amusing, significant, and witty.

As such, the film is sharply uneven, a problem which the inexcusably lengthy running time of two hours and ten minutes makes worse.  The picture could have been easily cut by half an hour without damaging its coherence, integrity, and fun level.

Though set in Baltimore, the yarn could have taken place in any large American city, as it tells the interconnected stories of an upscale group of twentysomething and thirtysomethings as they navigate their various relationships from the shallow end of the dating pool through the deep and murky waters of married life to the inevitably painful separation and divorce.

Ultimately, the movie is about sending, reading, and (mis) interpreting signs and signals, which, like technology, have changed over time, though not in the same dramatic pace.  The movie is smart and accurate enough to acknowledge the universality of some signals, as well as the difference between male and female driven signs, and variability along sexual orientation.

The film's all-star cast includes Ben Affleck as Neil; Jennifer Aniston as Beth; Drew Barrymore as Mary; Jennifer Connelly as Janine; Kevin Connolly as Conor; Bradley Cooper as Ben; Ginnifer Goodwin as Gigi; Scarlett Johansson as Anna; Kris Kristofferson as Ken; and Justin Long as Alex.


The protagonist and catalyst of events is Gigi (Ginnifer Gooding of “Big Love,” lovely as ever), a young, charming, but not drop-dead beauty, who's by turns ready, anxious, eager, and desperate to meet “the right” guy.  Most of her dates follow the same pattern: She's having a nice time, but as soon as the meeting is over, she can't help but sit by the telephone, hoping for the call to come soon, like right after the initial encounter.  That of course seldom or never happens and thus we have exchanges between Gigi and her soul mate Alex that go like this.  Gigi: “Maybe he called me and I didn't get the message. Or maybe he lost my number, or was out of town, or was hit by a cab, or his grandma died.” To which Alex coldly and factually responds, “Or maybe he just didn't call because he has no interest in seeing you again.

In depicting the web of tangled relationships, the narrative follows sort of a diagram.  The yarn begins with the first date between Gigi and Conor, (Kevin Connolly), after which it spirals into no less than nine interwoven stories, each with its own trajectory.  Gone are the good old days, when Hollywood's romantic comedies centered on one couple or a triangle of characters (usually a femme torn between two different men).


A young, up-and-coming real estate agent, Conor has a decent business, but he's still looking for his place in the romantic world.  Unbeknownst to Gigi, Conor is crazily attracted to Anna (Scarlett Johansson), a sexy yoga instructor.  Anna keeps Conor on the hook, throwing him mixed and contradictory signals to keep him waiting–just in case.

Anna, of course, has her own agenda.  She's interested in the bright architect
Ben (Bradley Cooper) she accidentally met at the local market.  At first Ben resists, claiming he's happily married to Janine (Jennifer Connelly), his college sweetheart, who almost forced him into marriage.

In contrast, Ben's friend Neil (Ben Affleck) enjoys a long-standing, satisfying, live-in relationship with Beth (Jennifer Aniston), but doesn't see the point of legally getting married after seven years together, despite Beth's fantasy, which escalates into growing anxiety and pressure and ultimately leads to separation.

The short book has no actual characters or conventional plot to speak of.  In this respect, the writing team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who had previously penned the hit comedy “Never Been Kissed” (also with Drew Barrymore), have done a mostly good job in building recognizable and realistic characters that viewers of various demo groups would be able to relate to.  Incidentally, the only member of the older generation is Kris Kristofferson, as Beth's father, who's terrific, nailing his part in two brief scenes.


 

Though most of the stories revolve around the women and the point of view is largely female, Kwapis and his writers do not spare the men their critical look.  There are just as many men who pine after and are rebuffed by women as there are women who are being rebuffed by men. The men and the women are equally confused, and the men make as many mistakes as the women–except they don't show much emotion in public.

In trying to read the signs of the opposite sex, the women (and sometimes the men) hope to be right and even more so hope to be the exceptions to the “no-exceptions” rule.  No one in this picture wants to reflect the norm or be an average gal, or guy for that matter.

 

Since the source material is anecdotal, the movie is inevitably fractured, and the editing makes this issue all the more noticeable; there's no narrative flow or appealing rhythm to the episodes.

 

Structurally, the film is divided into chapters, with titles like “He's just not that into you if he's not calling you,” or “If he's sleeping with someone else, or “If he's not marrying you,” and so on.   What is not so effective or funny are the interludes, or pauses during which women that are not in the narrative sit on a bench and address the camera directly with speeches about their own bitter-sweet experiences.

With the exception of Johansson, who tries too hard to be sexy, and Jennifer Connelly, who looks and sound too harsh before melting down, most of the thesps of the large ensemble render amiable performances that humanize their characters, especially Affleck and Aniston, who show new signs of maturity, and Bradley Cooper, whose handsome looks and charming persona speak well of leading man status and major stardom. 

 

However, towering over all the other is Goodwin, who seems perfect for the role of Gigi, a smart, likeable girl who's still wonderfully naïve and genuinely sincere.  Providing the film's heart and soul, Goodwin's Gigi represents a figure that many women were like in their youth, and in some respects, still are.

Cast

Gigi – Ginnifer Goodwin
Beth – Jennifer Aniston
Janine – Jennifer Connelly
Anna – Scarlett Johansson
Conor – Kevin Connolly
Ben – Bradley Cooper
Alex – Justin Long
Neil – Ben Affleck
Mary – Drew Barrymore
 

Credits

A Warner Bros. release of a New Line Cinema presentation of a Flower Films production.
Produced by Nancy Juvonen.
Executive producers, Drew Barrymore, Toby Emmerich, Michele Weiss, Michael Beugg.
Co-producers, Michael Disco, Gwenn Stroman.
Directed by Ken Kwapis.
Screenplay, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, based on the book by Greg Behrendt, Liz Tuccillo.
Camera: John Bailey.

Editor: Cara Silverman.

Music: Cliff Eidelman; music supervisor, Danny Bramson.

Production designer, Gae Buckley; art director, Andrew M. Cahn; set designers, John Warnke, Randy Wilkins; set decorator, K.C. Fox; costume designer, Shay Cunliffe; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Richard Bryce Goodman; supervising sound editors, Jason George, Geoffrey G. Rubay; re-recording mixers, Steve Pederson, Rad Sherman

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 129 Minutes