Preface: This was mostly written in December, but it proves a point to someone and it’s still relevant as the movie just saw release.
What do you put as a trailer before a movie like Vicky Christina Barcelona, if you’re more of a mainstream cinema? Well, there’s understandable quirky semi-mainstream like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which is required by law to be great, even though Zodiac sucked, David Fincher [date showing here – it turned out to be okay but not as good as the Academy would have you believe!]), and legitimate left-of-centre stuff like Frost/Nixon. With no ads to fill the gap, you’re left with only one option: a vehicle for the featured movie’s star.
What I’m talking about here is He’s Just Not That Into You, featuring Scarlett Johansson, which looks to have just about everything wrong with it:
In gender politics, society is always talking in stupid, meaningless absolutes that are clearly destroyed by the blatantly obvious fact that they simply aren’t true. What movies and TV have taught me, and what some people will distressingly back up, includes the following:
- Men and women can’t be friends.
- Women can’t be friends.
- Gay men can’t be friends.
So I don’t know, apparently if you’re a woman you can’t be friendly with anyone (although maybe gay men don’t “count” as men, but then, all gay men are rampant misogynists and gynophobes), and if you’re a man you can only be friends with people in your fraternity who aren’t gay. I’m getting the impression that He’s Just Not That Into You reinforces a lot of this.
In real life, I was quite distressed when one of my American friends informed me that men and women really cannot be friends. Obviously I’m a little removed from that world – America and heterosexuality – but is this really the world that we want to live in? Where a man can’t get along with a woman because of the rampant sexual tension that exists between every single one of them, regardless of any individual’s actual feelings? Where an alleged biological imperative is driving us towards being terrible people who avoid one another at every turn? A world where we’re supposed to believe that women aren’t funny?
Pardon me, sirs, but eff that ess.
He’s Just Not That Into You represents much of what is wrong with everything today. Not in the way that Failure to Launch did – and believe me, it had its own raft of problems – but in a new, striking, ensemble way. With several good actresses, including the always good Ginnifer Goodwin, and the eminently beautiful Jennifer Connelly, you don’t get the impression that they’ve committed to a good movie, but rather that they’re slumming it.
On the other hand, Drew Barrymore has always bothered me (I booed her in Charlie’s Angels, but I understand that she’s the fairytale of many women – in fact, I consult a real life woman in the drafting process of this exposé, only to find that Ever After was great), and nobody knows what to think of Jennifer Aniston, who is seemingly doomed to be the former Mrs Brad Pitt for life. Her last movie was a romantic comedy opposite Owen Wilson and a dog, and I think I detect a certain trajectory here. This looks like one of Scarlett’s slum movies – though they’re not exactly thin on the ground – and her pseudo-nudity is set to become a selling point for the “boyfriend” market.
- And there’s me hypocritically stereotyping, but this is honestly the demographic they’re aiming for: women who will drag men to see this movie, and it will reinforce all the BS they think they know.
Of the three featured men, Justin Long (he’s a Mac) is the most charismatic, and most likely to end up with Ginnifer Goodwin. John McLean’s confidante is, in this movie, also Ginnifer’s. The truth of the match is inevitable.
Scarlett’s friend is one of those vaguely familiar guys who always seems to play this role although, of course, he’ll be remembered for telling Scarlett she’s the best friend ever. Further research showed that the man in question is Bradley Cooper, who is most likely “memorable” for his turn as one of the super rowdy jocks in Wedding Crashers. If it were up to me, I would revoke his SAG membership.
The other guy is Ben Affleck. He proved himself behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone, and maybe he should stay there. I did have a feeling that people are crueller to Affleck than he deserves, but this movie adopts an insulting shorthand to gender relations, so why not me to Ben Affleck?
Of course, beyond the gender mess and Drew Barrymore’s team of fabulous gays (one of whom appears to have the surname “Faget” – stay classy, Hollywood!), is that this movie is another of those unfortunate conversions of self-help or similar non-fiction works into a narrative movie. A prominent recent example is Jim Carrey’s Yes Man, notable for Zooey Deschanel’s cosplaying as a Harry Potter character – although at least that seems like an idea that a narrative can be hung on. A more pertinent example is that of Fast Food Nation, an indictment of the fast food industry that was turned into an incredibly boring movie that featured pointless plot threads that never resolved themselves, and Avril Lavigne. Consider also 2008’s How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which grafted romance onto Toby Young’s account of his attempts to break into the American magazine world, and featured Megan Fox, who could stand to make an actually good movie at one point. It amounted to a listless movie, little more than Pegg Lite.
One can only imagine that they made He’s Just Not That Into You to cash in on the name recognition, but original IP is not a bad idea, honestly, and it means things are less shoehorned.
Of course, the offence that I personally took is not the only problem with the film. The amount of time that it took to be released, having been shot in late 2007 and been moved to February from its third quarter 2008 release, is worrying. Post-production on not-even-lukewarm rom-com does not take that long, so I’m inclined to think that the quality of the project was doomed from the start and that there’s no way in any of the seven Hells that it can even begin to approach satisfaction. The poster campaign grew strong on distressingly weak imagery, which was more like a collage of images of the actors, not even gelling together to represent anything.
“Hanging out is not dating”? How very insightful!
Dismissing the whole thing and its ridiculous premise out of hand seems the right course of action. Harry and Sally may not have been able to be friends, but nothing stopped Harry and Marie (Carrie Fisher) from getting along swimmingly. Basically, you’d be better off hanging out with Nora Ephron.
Post Script: He’s Just Not That Into You was released in Australia just shy of Valentine’s Day to lacklustre reviews and a mighty, almost entirely female, box office. I have personally been forced into attending the film in the not too distant future as penance for Revolutionary Road. It’s not fair – I’m nowhere near the boyfriend market!
It’s worse than a death sentence, but I’ll get back to you.
I realise that if I was really serious about this I would have made an effort and watched the ten minute Youtube video from the film’s male stars explaining why He’s Just Not That Into You is palatable to half of the species, but there’s no way I was going to sit through that. Something about women not having friends who give sage advice? What’s wrong with that, exactly? And the fact that it doesn’t have women breaking into song while holding kitchen appliances. Most movies aren’t Mamma Mia!, guys. Try harder next time.