Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin, HBO's "Big Love") keeps expecting what she sees as promising dates to turn into relationships, waiting by the phone for calls that never come. When she tries to 'accidentally' bump into her latest obsession, Baltimore real estate hot shot Conor (Kevin Connolly, HBO's "Entourage"), at one of his hangouts, the club's owner Alex (Justin Long, "Live Free or Die Hard," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno") takes an interest, but points out the obvious - "He's Just Not That Into You."
Take a phrase from a "Sex and the City" episode that Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo turned into a self help book and process through the down-to-earth downy duckling appeal of Drew Barrymore's Flower Productions and their "Never Been Kissed" screenwriting team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein and what do you get? Something that is occasionally sweet and occasionally funny but also infrequently relatable, oddly dated and often downright offputting. If viewing women basing their entire self worth on the interest and commitment of a man, advising friends to go for a relationship with a married man or googling destination weddings at the hint of a coworker's prospect is your idea of romantic comedy, this may be for you.
Director Ken Kwapis ("The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "License to Wed") is more adept juggling the multiple, intersecting storyline here than he was with "Traveling Pants." The overlapping relationships and hookups feel natural and organic, connected as they are through Conor's up and coming piece of the Baltimore real estate scene, an area of restored brownstones. The screenwriters, however, try to attach their not so flattering adult female behavior to the playground with a prologue featuring 5 year-old Morgan Lily ("Henry Poole Is Here") being compared to dog poo before being assured by mom that that's what little boys do when they like you. From that starting point, the film is structured around chapter headings of the self help book, all kicked off by characters external to the film itself expounding on what happens '...if he's not calling you,' '...if he's sleeping with someone else,' or '...if he's not marrying you.'
Gigi is hopeful when Conor sticks around for a second drink during their first date, but the phone call he makes on his way out isn't to her, as she thinks, but to Anna (Scarlett Johansson, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), the super hot yoga instructor who's been keeping him baited. Anna's interest is engaged by a chance meeting with Ben (Bradley Cooper, "Wedding Crashers," "Yes Man") at a grocery store, but Ben tries to stifle his attraction in favor of his marriage to college sweetheart Janine (Jennifer Connelly, "The Day the Earth Stood Still"). Ben's buddy Neil (Ben Affleck) is doubtful as to whether Ben can handle Anna as a client, but he's got his own problems when his girlfriend of seven years, Beth (Jennifer Aniston), learns her little sister Paige (Brooke Bloom, TV's "CSI: Miami") is getting married. Anna's friend Mary (Drew Barrymore) works at the Baltimore Blade, a gay newspaper where Mary's artful ad placement is drawing a whole new clientele for Conor.
As with all romantic comedies, there are misunderstandings and artificial obstacles aplenty to delay the eventual happily-ever-afters, but the filmmakers gives us pause with every character we might actually invest in. Gigi's complete lack of dignity makes her painful from the get go, but there's reason to route for Mary - so why does she have to be the one to encourage Anna to go after a married man? Beth seems like the most responsible adult until Gigi's realization that Alex might actually be interested in her makes Beth act like a sixteen year-old planning a theme park wedding (Beth works with Gigi and Janine). Then there are the tricks of nondisclosure such as how Beth's character is saddled with an obsession that Ben is sneaking cigarettes, a 'lie' that is supposed to be a metaphor for cheating except for that fact that she's given no reason to suspect Anna's existence. Neil's character is an outright bait and switch - set up as a commitment-phobe to hide the fact that - he's a really nice guy?
The good looking ensemble cast do more than their fair share keeping audience interest in this roundabout, although one must marvel at casting Jennifer Connelly as the frumpy wife. Connelly rises above not only that, but more than her fair share of clunky writing. Barrymore isn't as successful working her way around a soliloquy on the romantic pitfalls of technology, a scene that seems to add at least ten years to her character, but she does enjoy the most surprising and naturalistic of pair offs. Affleck and Aniston remain likable through a relatively straight-through storyline, although Kris Kristoffersen never really melds into the cast as Aniston's dad. Bradley Cooper's sex appeal has never been more apparent than it is here, but his character's moral compass is left spinning. Goodwin's kewpie doll charm shines through Gigi's cluelessness and Connelly is the epitome of the 'cuddly' type Conor would not see in himself. Scarlett Johansson, however, cannot make her character come across as anything other than vain and self-absorbed. Watch for Luis Guzman in a small role as a contractor and kudos to the two African American actresses whose park bench chapter header steals the movie.
Choosing Baltimore as a setting was a terrific idea and the filmmakers give us the Domino Sugar sign and requisite crab cracking, but all those exposed brick interiors which are supposed to be the height of chic instead seem dim and drab.
For a film based on a romantic self help book with a starry ensemble of thirtysomethings, "He's Just Not That Into You" indulges too much in childish behavior, but its equal opportunity heartbreak makes it more than just another chick flick.
Robin did not see this film.
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