Fans of romantic comedies may find 2003’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” romantic enough and funny enough to qualify as a success. Non fans will find it far-fetched and tedious. Which leaves most of the rest of us, like you and me. For us, the film has a pair of attractive stars in Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, a pair that caught the public’s fancy well enough in “How to Lose a Guy” that they teamed up again in 2008 for “Fool’s Gold.” Let me put it this way: If you liked “Fool’s Gold,” you stand a good chance of liking “How to Lose a Guy,” even if for me personally the film is pretty much just another, ordinary entry in the romantic-comedy genre.
Here’s the setup: Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is a beautiful young writer for a glossy, woman’s magazine, “Composure,” a kind of “Cosmopolitan” clone. Andie writes “How to” articles for the mag, and as the story opens her best friend, Michelle (Kathyrn Hahn), a perpetual loser at love, inspires Andie to write an article called “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” The plan is for Andie to find a total stranger, woo and win him, then purposely commit all the “classic mistakes” that Michelle makes in order to get him to dump her, all within a week and a half. She’ll keep a diary of her experiences and use it to write the article. Her editor, the icy Lana Jong (Bebe Newwirth), loves the idea.
Among Andie’s rules for losing a guy: “Take something he loves and ruin it for him. Give him a plant and tell him that it’s a symbol your relationship. Decorate his bachelor pad with stuffed animals. Give him a hairless lap dog and buy them matching sweaters. Make a family album of your future together.” Etc.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, Ben Barry, a handsome young advertising executive, is trying to land a big diamond-company deal, and somehow he talks his boss, Phillip Warren (Robert Klein), into letting him have the account if he can win a bet with him. He bets his boss that he can find a total stranger, woo and win her, and bring her with him as his only true love to a big, splashy party the agency is throwing in ten days for the diamond people.
So, there you have it. Both Andie and Ben have a scheme going, and, yep, you guessed it, they end up choosing each other as the total stranger in their designs. The setup seems so contrived and so utterly preposterous, it’s hard to take anything that follows it seriously (in a comedic fashion). When you’re shaking your head and saying, “Oh, brother….,” you know the film is in trouble. After Andie thinks she’s snared him, she tries to behave as obnoxiously as possible to lose him. All the while, he tries to stick it out, no matter what. Not even a veteran comedy director like Donald Petrie (“Grumpy Old Men,” “Miss Congeniality”) can do much with this nonsense, although he gives his best shot.
Worse, it’s hard to like the lead characters as we should, the first half hour of the movie given over to showing us how cute and irresistible they are. We see Andie giving advice on love to Michelle as though she were an expert, and Michelle agreeing that Andie IS an expert. And we see Ben in a black leather jacket and black helmet, driving his motorcycle to work; then we see him taking off his shirt in the office while his female co-workers secretly ogle his body. Not only are both the leads cute, they know they’re cute. OK, maybe the filmmakers meant this to be part of the fun; I don’t know. I just found it off-putting to find the two characters so conceited and arrogant they think they can toy with other people’s affections so indiscriminately.
Now, despite these reservations about the goofy plot and the cocky characters, the movie proceeds pleasantly enough thereafter. The secret is for the viewer to forget about the story’s premise and to consider that the reason the movie sets up the characters as preening and haughty is so they have farther, humorously, to fall. Fair enough.
One cute bit: On their third date Andie takes Ben to a Chick-Flick Marathon. She makes him watch “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Mystic Pizza,” and “When Harry Met Sally” back to back. Part of what I thought was funny was that all these other movies are better romantic comedies than the one we’re watching.
Another cute bit: Andie interrupts one of Ben’s poker nights with the boys. “Oh,” exclaims Andie, “our love fern is dead!” “No,” says Ben, “it’s just sleeping.”
A visit with Ben’s family late in the movie doesn’t seem to benefit either character, so it’s hard to tell why they agree to it. However, since it is handy in bringing some dangling plot points together, I suppose there’s a reason for everything.
Need I mention that notwithstanding their motives for dating one another, Andie and Ben do actually fall in love? That’s hardly a spoiler since it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy if they didn’t. It’s part of the formula. But once the film establishes this fact, it ought to have ended about twenty minutes before it does.
Still, all’s well that ends well, and there’s an appropriately “ahhhhh” finish. What can I say? It works. Enough to save the movie? For me, not exactly, but I’m not you.
Paramount engineers present the film in its original aspect ratio, 1.85:1, using an anamorphic transfer, one enhanced for widescreen TVs. As befitting a romantic comedy, the colors are bright and cheerful and a tiny bit flashier than real life, but that’s what we want from this kind of movie. Definition is fairly good, although it often looks too smoothed out, too soft. Still, I’m getting more and more used to watching high definition, so anything in standard def looks soft to me anymore. Fortunately, a smidgen of natural film grain gives the image some much-needed texture, so it’s quite agreeable to look at.
A romantic comedy is not necessarily going to have a whizbang soundtrack; therefore, don’t expect the Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics to knock your socks off. Nonetheless, it is satisfying. We don’t get much in the way of frequency extremes or dynamic impact, but we do get a pleasing ambient musical bloom in the surrounds, as well as a modicum of audience noise during a Knicks game and during various social events. The audio is smooth and realistic, which is what counts.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the extras. They’re just pretty commonplace, like the movie itself. For instance, we get the requisite audio commentary by the director, Donald Petrie, who mostly tells us the obvious. What else could he do? Then there are three featurettes: “How to Make a Movie in 2 Years” is seventeen minutes on preproduction work with the book’s authors, Michele Anderson and Jeannie Long, and the filmmakers; “Why the Sexes Battle” is five minutes on the psychology of the sexes; and “Girls Night Out” is five minutes with the two authors of the book again. Following those items are two items in regular definition: A music video, “Somebody Like You,” by Keith Urban, and five deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary, totaling almost ten minutes.
Things wind down with twenty-one scene selections; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and a handsome fold-out slipcover for the keep case.
The easy shot at “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” is to say that the producers might better have titled it “How to Lose a Viewer in 10 Ways.” But I would never take the low road. While the story line is wholly implausible, even for a comedy, and the characters are entirely predictable, the movie in general does not really displease. Indeed, there are a few scenes that are quite charming. It’s the in-between stretches that may concern you.