Watching the extras on He's Just Not That Into You, it's hard not to notice a running theme: just how surprised everyone is that six little words created such a phenomenon that, in the end, led to their own feature film. But having watched the feature film itself, I understand their being mystified. You think watering down short stories or children's books to 90 minutes is tough -- imagine how watered down six pithy words once spat out in the writers' room of Sex and the City must end up being. I certainly understand the phenomenon. As much as it seems like advice that should be self-evident, some people choose to be deluded. And this phrase, the book that followed, and now this movie, have hammered that home.
The film certainly opens well. In fact, the opening scene is its most telling and pointed observation. In it a little girl is playing in the park when a little boy comes up, kicks sand at her, and tells her that she's made of doo-doo. When this little girl goes crying to mom, completely heartbroken, mom looks down, smiles and gives her sage, motherly advice: "You know why he said those things? Because he likes you." Then we cut back to the girl with a puzzled expression and a freeze-frame as a narrator (Ginnifer Goodwin) explains that this moment, the moment right before us, is one that scars women for life and convinces them of something that just isn't true -- that men who treat them like crap really do actually like them.
What follows, sadly, isn't nearly as concise or insightful as this moment. Instead it is a Love Actually-like story about nine intertwined characters all looking for love ... many in all the wrong places. But rather than understanding the nature of rom-coms and boiling them down to the purest essence of each romantic archetype (as Love Actually did) we're treated to a series of relatively uninteresting characters who, mostly, systematically mess things up for themselves. We have a couple very much in love (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Aniston), but with a man who doesn't want to be married; a married couple very much not in love, with a man (Bradley Cooper) being hounded by Scarlett Johansson; there's a good man in love with ScarJo; a girl who desperately wants to find a good man (Ginny Goodwin); and a man who just doesn't want to fall in love at all (the always great Justin Long.) Just to spice things up, we're treated to the occasional scene of Drew Barrymore (a producer on the film) putting her toe into the online dating scene for laughs.
But ultimately the film undercuts its own message and power. It spends the bulk of the film hammering home its thesis -- that you are not the exception, you are the rule, the girl who magical things doesn't happen for -- only to have an ending in which almost everyone ends up the exception. There are some solid endings here, but then they feel they have to go that extra mile (because this is a rom-com) and it destroys everything they've just set up. And the end result is rather unsatisfying.
Sadly, the extras follow suit. There is an issue of the Baltimore Blade, which is a series of six in-character interviews with the various actors after the film. It's very obvious that this is unscripted, and while many of these actors have the capability to pull off solid improv, there is none to be found here. Often times they stumble and grasp for answers to the questions as the actors try to reckon "What would my character say here?" There's a series of deleted scenes, none of them essential and most of them gladly removed from the film. The most painful was a storyline about ScarJo's interesting, beautiful mom who is always trying to one-up her daughter. It is a sad, failed attempt to build sympathy for a character we can't really sympathize with -- the cheating home-wrecker who is spurning her own loving, genuine suitor. There's a short doc that is definitely worth seeing about how they turned these six words into a film and a very cool anatomy of a scene short in which director Ken Kwapis lays out one of the better scenes in the film. If you're going to check this out, the last two are pretty much essential.
He's Just Not That Into You is available now from Warner Home Video.