Friday, February 6, 2009
Movie review: He’s Just Not That Into You
He’s Just Not That Into You earns its spot in the positive column of Valentine’s Day movies.
Romantic comedies are virtually guaranteed to be released on or around Valentine's Day, and they're always a mixed bunch. Last year saw both the horrendous Fool's Gold and the surprisingly-good Definitely, Maybe, and 2007 brought us the ghastly Music and Lyrics. So it's with trepidation that I approached He's Just Not That Into You, the new rom-com based on the 2004 book of the same name, even with all the star power attached.
And, my, what stars there are: Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, and Drew Barrymore are all solid A-listers, and they're backed up by only slightly less-famous actors like Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin, Bradley Cooper, and Kevin Connolly, all of whom are mostly known for their TV roles. Barrymore, credited as an executive producer, must have called in a lot of favors to land this cast.
With such a well-known cast, though, you run the risk of overkill if you don't handle it in just the right way. Fortunately, that's exactly what happens. In a move that strains a little credulity but ultimately succeeds, every main character in the Baltimore-set film is connected to everybody else: Mary (Barrymore), an advertising saleswoman at a local gay newspaper, is friends with Anna (Johansson), who's in an on-again, off-again relationship with Conor (Connolly), who's friends with Alex (Long), who runs a bar frequented by Gigi (Goodwin), who works with Beth (Aniston) and Janine (Connelly), who are in long term relationships/marriages with, respectively, Neil (Affleck) and Ben (Cooper), who, naturally, are best friends.
That's not to mention the not-so-innocent flirting that Anna and Ben start up after meeting at a grocery store, or the date that Conor and Gigi go on that was set up by Janine (Conor, a real estate agent, sold Janine and Ben their house), or the burgeoning friendship between Alex and Gigi as he gives her advice about men, or the ad that Mary runs for Conor in her newspaper.
All of this switching back-and-forth between the multiple storylines could’ve become distracting or just plain too much, but director Ken Kwapis and writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (with an assist from editor Cara Silverman, I’m sure) keep the jumbled parts distinct enough that every character (and actor) gets a chance to shine. Since three of the couples are relatively established, there’s none of the standard boy-meets-girl clichés. Even the one character (Gigi) who’s desperately looking for love has an arc that defies “normal” rom-com standards.
All of the actors acquit themselves well, especially – no surprise – Aniston, Affleck, Johansson, and Connelly. Screen time is pretty evenly split between all the actors, but it’s actually Goodwin who seems to become the de facto “lead” of the film, her quest for someone to actually call her back being the most engaging of all the plots. The “every girl” quality she exudes makes her instantly relatable. The only person who’s slightly out of place is Long, as he doesn’t quite have the presence to pull off his bar manager/lothario/all-knowing role.
Though the film does chicken out a bit on the happy-ending side, none of the resolutions feel forced or unearned, which, given the genre, is a minor miracle. Likewise, He’s Just Not That Into You earns its spot in the positive column of Valentine’s Day movies.