How many big-name Hollywood filmmakers does it take to create a humdrum romantic comedy? In the case of 2009’s “He’s Just Not That Into You,” it took a slew, including director Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” “License to Wed”) and stars Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connoly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlet Johansson, Kris Kristofferson, and Justin Long. Not that they succeed in completely wasting the picture, but you have to wonder why they couldn’t have come up with something a tad more lively or unique.
Kwapis directed a screenplay by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein adapted from the best-selling book “He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys” by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (two of the folks who worked on “Sex and the City”). Although a man directed the film and although both a man and a woman co-wrote the script and the book, the movie tells its stories from a woman’s point of view. Gentlemen, be forewarned.
Here’s the thing the movie tells us at the very start: If a guy acts like a complete jerk to a girl, he probably likes her. Or, he’s just not that into her. As I say, the male of the species doesn’t get much slack, making the film a truer “chick flick” than most romances or romantic comedies that come along. By this, I mean “He’s Just Not That Into You” may not appeal to most males as much as a more typical romantic comedy might. Think “Sex and the City.” If you’re a guy and you liked that show, you’ll probably like this one. If, like me, however, you found “Sex and the City” fairly boring, you’ll probably not like “He’s Just Not That Into You.”
“He’s Just Not That Into You” is one of those multi-character, multi-plot movies that have become so popular recently, this time with four sets of couples and a few hangers-on. Do the math: The movie is 129 minutes long and has at least eight major characters. That means each person gets about fifteen minutes worth of story, max, hardly enough to develop much characterization. OK, admittedly, the guys in the movie get short shrift, anyway, but it still doesn’t leave enough time for the viewer to identify, sympathize, or empathize with anyone, male or female.
The movie follows the book’s self-help approach to getting dates and securing lasting relationships. What we learn is that apparently women spend most of their days waiting for telephone calls from guys, and when they’re not waiting at the phone, they’re thinking about the guys and the calls. Kind of depressing, actually.
The nominal main character is Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), a naive young woman trying desperately to find the right man in her life. She’s attractive and smart, but every guy she meets dumps her for reasons we never learn. So she winds up practically stalking the men in whom she has even the least bit of interest.
One of Gigi’s best friends is Beth (Jennifer Anniston). She lives with Neil (Ben Affleck), who’s almost too good to be true. She’s lived with him for years now, and they’re happy, but he doesn’t believe in marriage, and she does, and, well, you can see where that’s going.
Another of Gigi’s friends is Janine (Jennifer Connelly). She’s married to Ben (Bradley Cooper), who has developed a wandering eye and fallen for the lovely but vacuous Anna (Scarlett Johansson). Ben tries his best to remain faithful, but Janine doesn’t help much by taking him for granted.
Anna’s sometime boyfriend is Conor (Kevin Connolly), a real-estate agent who wants to get more involved with Anna but finds her distancing herself from him, again for reasons never explained.
Which leaves Alex (Justin Long), a cool, laid-back fellow who has to beat the ladies off and who inadvertantly becomes Gigi’s mentor in affairs of the heart. And Anna’s best friend, Mary (Drew Barrymore), a beautiful woman who can’t get a date to save her life. (As I say, these things are never explained.)
Kris Kristofferson enters the picture as Beth’s father, but why he accepted the part I don’t know since the poor man has virtually nothing to do except have a heart attack. Kristofferson gets maybe thirty seconds of screen time.
The movie plays like a television sitcom without the laugh track (and without the laughs). Think not only of “Sex and the City” but “Friends,” though not as amusing. However, it’s a good thing there are a number of well-known actors involved because, otherwise, you’d never be able to tell one character from another. It’s not like a yearlong TV series where you get to know an ensemble cast over the course of many months. It’s only a two-hour movie, so it’s the recognizable faces that keep you from becoming hopelessly lost among the bland characters. You keep saying to yourself, Oh, yeah, that’s Ben Affleck or Jennifer Anniston or the smug dude from the Mac commercials, Justin Long.
Also, be aware that “He’s Just Not Into You” is more of a romantic drama than a romantic comedy. Don’t expect to find anything particularly funny here. The filmmakers mean for us to take all of it lightheartedly, but they don’t necessarily play it for laughs. Still, while the movie plays up the drama (or melodrama), there isn’t much romance involved, either. Kind of an odd duck, really.
The actors struggle to make the most of their measly parts. Justin Long comes off best, showing more screen presence than anybody else in the picture. It’s funny when you think about it. Ben Affleck has all the handsome good looks of an old-time matinee idol, and Scarlett Johansson is the very model of a curvaceous sexpot, yet it’s the average-looking Justin Long who dominates every scene he’s in. Oh, and there’s Luis Guzman in an uncredited role as a workman, Javier. In a change of pace for the actor, he doesn’t get to shoot anyone. Too bad. It would have improved the picture. If the filmmakers could have worked Danny Trejo into the plot as well, we might have had a classic.
“He’s Just Not That Into You” loses most of its charm in the shuffle of characters. What little personality development we do get is clichéd, and you can pretty much tell what’s going to happen an hour in advance of its happening. Everyone pitches in as though it were a summer-stock acting company putting on one last big show to save the day, but it isn’t enough to rescue a tedious, fragmented, scattershot script.
Using flip sides of the disc, Warner Bros. offer the film in two screen formats, the movie’s original theatrical release aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and a pan-and-scan rendering at 1.33:1. I suppose there are still people out there with standard-screen TVs who feel threatened by the black bars at the top and bottom of the widescreen. Is there a name for that: blackbarophobia? I dunno. In any case, the P&S version cuts off about half of the image left and right.
In anamorphic widescreen the picture quality is pretty good for standard definition. You get excellent colors, bright and vivid, with good facial tones and solid black levels. Detailing is top-notch, too, and object delineation holds up well compared to most other SD releases.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio hasn’t much to do, as one might expect in a movie that is mostly all dialogue. Fortunately, the midrange sounds clear and clean. We hear a touch of bass only in the barroom scenes with a jukebox playing. The surrounds remain largely inactive except in a few rare instances where environmental noises–crowds, cars, etc.–play a part.
The two main “extras” are getting both the widescreen and full-screen versions of the movie, plus five deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Kwapis. These are in non-anamorphic widescreen, total almost fourteen minutes, and center mainly around the development of Scarlett Johansson’s character, with the involvement of her mother, played by Theresa Russell.
In addition, we get thirty scene selections; several trailers at start-up only; access to a digital copy download, compatible with Windows media and not with Apple Macintosh or iPod devices; English as the spoken language; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. The keep case is one of those affairs that are becoming popular of late with cutout designs in the plastic front and back. I don’t know whether this is to save on the cost of materials or to look clever or both, but it feels cheap and flimsy.
“He’s Just Not That Into You” is not an objectionable motion picture, just a routine and predictable one. It does have several sweet “ahhh” moments at the end, as all good romantic-dramatic comedies must, and they tend to save it from total insignificance. It’s just too bad those moments are so long in coming.