An Exception to the Rule

8 Feb

Based on the the best-selling book of the same name by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the film He’s Just Not That Into You tries to dramatize and explain — and make light of — the reasons why dating is so hard for so many people. We meet the wrong people. We believe lies. We get overeager and share too much about ourselves up front. We don’t read the signs. Etc. Etc. We’ve all done it or caused someone else to do it. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t remind us of all these stupid behaviors in grating, annoying fashion. Instead, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable time that won’t make men feel emasculated or ashamed when the lights come up.

To be clear, HJNTIY is less of a romantic comedy than romantic dramedy. Which is not to say that it’s unfunny. It’s just that more of the laughs come from watching the movie and saying to yourself, “I’ve done that” (or listening to people around you who say it), or from knowing that what the characters are doing is exactly the wrong thing to do (and, yes, hearing people who sit next to you call that out). The Altman-esque ensemble is filled with likable actors in likable, sympathetic roles — even Scarlett Johansson, who plays a seductress who tries to break up a marriage, while also trying to deflect the affections of a young suitor played by Entourage‘s Kevin Connolly. Think Love Actually, but set it in Baltimore not at Christmastime, and cast it with younger people, and you have the basic idea.

Much of the movie is told from the POV of Ginnifer Goodwin‘s Gigi, the prototypical single girl who keeps falling for the wrong guys and believing they’re more interested in her than they actually are. When a guy tells her he’ll call and then doesn’t, Gigi spends all day checking her voice mail and working herself up over why he hasn’t, and whether she should call him or do a “drive-by” at a place she knows he’ll be. On one such drive-by, Gigi befriends Alex (Justin Long), the manager of a bar, who advises her in blunt, honest style about how to understand men (essentially, he’s Behrendt’s stand-in). If you, like me, were a fan of the TV show Ed, then you’ll agree that it’s good to see these two back together again all these years later. The entire cast has easy chemistry, and while they all don’t interact with each other, the relationships on screen do seem believable.

Thankfully, HJNTIY avoids most of the obvious cliches of chick flicks: there’s no silly montage of bad dates, no gay best friend, no cheesy soundtrack, no sitcom-y cliches, no nothing like that. Which, I think, means that HJNTIY may not be a chick flick at all, given the conventional definition. Yes, some of the story lines do end happily, but not all of them, and it’s not like there’s sweeping music or guys running down the street to meet an impossible deadline or anything cliched like that to make you groan when they do. The women here are not swans in ugly duckling wardrobes, or put-upon sad sacks prone to clumsy antics, who are waiting for Prince Charming … and the guys are portrayed in equally imperfect fashion. This is essentially a lesson movie, but it’s one whose lessons go down easy.

Because dating foibles are something we can all identify with, and because it’s not just the women who are the victims here, HJNTIY is actually a movie that can be enjoyed by either gender. Could it be a tad shorter than two hours, 10 minutes? Sure. But the winning cast keeps things moving and the relatable storylines keep the action engaging. I’m into He’s Just Not That Into You so I’m giving it a B+.

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