I was really looking forward to seeing He’s Just Not That Into You. Don’t judge! Admit it—you were, too. It’s been a cold, dark and depressing winter (and I’m not just talking about the weather), so is it any wonder that the ubiquitous and sunny trailer for the film—chock full of beautiful people like Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Connolly and Bradley Cooper, bumbling around in matters of the heart—might be appealing? In fact, the aforementioned trailer includes the opening scene of the film, a quick vignette that won me over instantly. Here’s how it goes:
A little girl gets shoved by a boy at the playground and told she smells like dog poo. Weeping little girl runs to her mother, who wipes her face and explains that the little boy did that because, in fact, he likes her. Little girl wrinkles adorable nose and looks skyward while a voice-over from Ms. Goodwin dramatically intones, “That’s the beginning of our problem. We’re all programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk, that means he likes you.”
And—ha!—that’s kind of funny because it’s kind of true, right? (For those wondering, the answer is yes and no and it depends.) Sure, it’s well-traversed ground—and I don’t even mean to conjure memories of Sex and the City, which first coined the quip “he’s just not that into you” (instant Occam’s Razor philosophy for the lovelorn) and inspired a best-selling book before giving birth to this film. Think of the countless romantic comedies before it that had hard-and-fast rules along these same lines: the man whom the woman has been sniping with throughout acts one and two becomes the man she can’t live without by act three. The platonic friend you never once considered a romantic prospect is, in fact, your soul mate. The most boorish of cads will become downright princely if you can just hang on for 90 minutes. Do these things tend to happen in real life? No! But you know what? Who cares? Because, after all, they’re just movies and, besides, it’s February. And often these films make you happy. (Two Weeks Notice, we’re looking at you.)
So, with that being said, how can I explain the feeling of rage that had me white-knuckling my armrest by the end of He’s Just Not That Into You? Unlike the best of romantic comedies—the ones that send you swooning home with thoughts of first kisses and your own private montage of slo-mo paint fights in your first shared apartment, chasing lobsters or dragging a Christmas tree down a West Village cobblestoned street (somebody cue up “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”!)—this movie honestly made me never want to date again. It kind of made me not want to be a woman! Wait, scratch that. It kind of made me not want to be a member of the entire human race.
A GROSS OVERREACTION? A byproduct of mounting zeitgeistian anxiety and recent singlehood? Perhaps. But let’s break it down anyway, because unlike a straight-up bad movie à la The Love Guru, this film is not easy to dismiss.
He’s Just Not That Into You is something much more sneaky and nefarious than your garden-variety romantic comedy, because it almost gets at something true and dark about people: how even the best of us can behave really badly. After the playground scene, as we’re getting to know the interwoven cast of couples and singletons, a woman goes on a first date with a guy, and walks away thinking it has gone great, while said man goes home and calls the girl he’s really interested in. That particular girl is gunning for a married man, but when her ego needs stroking, she rings up the fallback guy, who is still ignoring the girl he went on the date with. All that sort of sucks, but then again, so do people. I wondered, could He’s Just Not That Into You be a sort of scary-realist film dressed in funny clothing à la The Break-Up?
Alas, the answer is no, for at every opportunity to show the dirty underbelly of all of our collective romantic foibles, the film spooks itself and scampers away to safer and sunnier ground. (Do not finish reading this paragraph if you don’t want to know some of the happy endings of this film!) Take, for instance, the story of Beth and Neil, who at the beginning of the movie have been happily dating for seven years. They’re committed and in love, but when Beth’s sister gets married, she spazzes out about their lack of wedded-ness, though Neil is one of those guys who is highly principled on the topic of why he doesn’t believe in marriage. It’s realistic! Seriously. So is her freakout, which of course inspires her to break up with him. Later on, he shows up when she needs him most and she (aha!) realizes that she doesn’t need to be married to be happy and tells him that, in fact, he’s been more of a husband to her than most husbands she knows.