© 2009 Ray Wong
Part of the problem with chick flicks or romantic comedies that focus on the dynamics of relationships is exactly that: they focus too much on the boy-meet-girl story and become too touchy feely for the guys to enjoy. He's Just Not That Into You, refreshingly, offers something a little different.
Based on a popular nonfiction self-help book, the story follows a group of strangers (and some friends) who meet, date, hook up, break up, or must meander through the minefield of relationships. Neil (Ben Affleck) and Beth (Jennifer Aniston) seem to be a very happy couple, having been together for seven years, but Neil will not marry Beth, much to her frustration. Anna (Scarlett Jonansson) meets perfect guy Ben (Bradley Cooper) who is happily married to Janine (Jennifer Connelly). Meanwhile, Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) is obsessed with a one-time date, Conor (Kevin Connolly). But Conor is hung up on Anna, with whom he had a fling. At the same time, Anna's friend Mary (Drew Barrymore) is having a lot of problem meeting guys -- most of them just want to sleep with her.
Eventually, Beth breaks up with Neil because she feels she can't waste her life on someone who won't marry her even after she's pleaded. On the other side of town, despite Ben's resistance, he can't ignore his mutual attraction with Anna and they end up having an affair. Meanwhile, Janine suspects that Ben is lying to her -- not about his extramarital activities, but something else. After Gigi fails to stalk Conor, his friend Alex (Justin Long) ends up mentoring her on the fine art of dating. And poor old Mary is still having trouble meeting quality guys.
The huge ensemble cast is all excellent in their respective roles. Ben Affleck (Hollywoodland) has matured as an actor. His portrayal of Neil is sincere and subtle, devoid of his usual smugness. Jennifer Aniston (Marley and Me) is playing herself again, but she's very good at it, and the role fits her like a glove. Drew Barrymore (Beverly Hills Chihuahua) has a relatively small role (even in such an ensemble cast) but she does a good job with it. Jennifer Connelly (The Day the World Stood Still) also plays to type as a control-freak wife, reminding me of another Jennifer (Garner) is Juno.
Kevin Connolly (The Notebook) is the least convincing of the bunch -- he just comes across as slight. Perhaps it's how his character is written. Ginnifer Goodwin (Walk the Line), on the other hand, is hilariously affecting as Gigi, the girl who's "all screwed up" about relationships. She gives one of the film's most spirited performances. Bradley Cooper (Yes Man) and Scarlett Johansson (The Spirit) look great together and, in another film, we would have rooted for them. But as a couple of cheating lovebirds, it's rather difficult to wish them luck. Last by not least, Justin Long (Zack and Miri Made a Porno) is aptly confident as the womanizing Alex. He's not really how I'd picture the character, but Long does a very good job convincing us.
Writers Abby Kohn (Opposite Sex) and Marc Silverstein (Opposite Sex) take the themes of the best-selling book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo and wrap a complete story around them. They've done a great job weaving the complex web of connections among ten or twelve main characters without confusing the audience. Each character also gets their fair share of development, depth, and plot. The dialogue is snappy and witty, and the characters in general are very endearing, even with their flaws and mistakes. You see, they're not bad people, but they just do what they do in the game of love, much like everyone else.
In fact, that's the true strength of the script -- wrapping a humorous story around some truism. Sometimes you can't help but laugh out loud because you know it is so true. If you can't laugh at life, what can you? It's not to say the story or plot is without its incredulous moments. Some of it seems forced and a bit "wishful thinking." It kind of takes away from the story because it's supposed to be based on some realistic understanding of how relationships work. But these minor hiccups aside, the script is tight and easy to follow (even with its huge cast and multiple plot threads).
Director Ken Kwapis (Licensed to Wed) is effective in that he's able to connect all the dots without confusing the audience. He moves smoothly between the different plot lines, following the different characters and offering clear transitions and interactions. Nothing comes out at us; nothing says, "hey, look, I'm a good director" but that's the strength and restraint of Mr. Kwapis's direction. The editing is also very smooth and effective in weaving the different stories together, culminating in a satisfying, almost contemplative ending. Baltimore never looks so good on film, but I have a hard time believing it's not Los Angeles in disguise.
He's Just Not That Into You is not your regular chick flick. The fact that the book as well as the script were written teams of both men and women, the movie offers a balanced and rounded look at relationships from the perspective of both sexes. It's never condescending or pretends to know everything. But it gives us such true insight into the joy and pitfalls as we all navigate through the confusing maze of love. It's a romantic comedy a cut above the rest, and honestly, I'm quite into it.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, Justin Long
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein (based on book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo)
Distributor: New Line
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 9
Production – 7
Total – 8 out of 10