He's Just Not That Into You
When will she be loved?
Beware the chick flick that pretends to tell it like it is; because it wants to send you home happy, it will eventually have to lie. "He's Just Not That Into You" is a fictional romantic comedy based on a nonfictional advice bestseller subtitled "The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys," and, like the book, it's aimed at the kind of single woman who stares at her silent answering machine with geometrically progressing anxiety. That title implores: Ladies, drop the excuses, gather up your self-esteem, and move on.
The film version, a pleasurable if empty-headed all-star roundelay, stays true to that sentiment until it doesn't, at which point smarter audience members will mutter "Burned again" while the gullible will coo in delight and tell all their friends. The movie plays like "Love Actually" with half the brains and none of the nerve.
Still, "He's Just Not That Into You" is good comfort food for most of its running time, thanks to a cast of attractive, unchallenging pros and Ken Kwapis's smooth direction. The script by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein settles into the yuppie environs of Baltimore - nice to see someone other than John Waters and the "Homicide" crew there - and introduces us to eight or nine rotating characters.
Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and Ben (Bradley Cooper) are the young marrieds, pouring money and energy into a brownstone rehab even as he's tempted by a comely yoga instructor named Anna (Scarlett Johansson at her most lusciously bimbotic). Anna, in turn, is yearned for by realtor Conor (Kevin Connolly), a nice-guy-friend-with-not-enough-benefits; Drew Barrymore plays Anna's self-absorbed boho pal Mary, constantly offering lousy advice. (If it's any comfort, her outfits are worse.)
Over in this corner are Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and Neil (Ben Affleck), the latter content in their seven-year relationship, the former raging passive-aggressively for an engagement ring that never comes. And then there's Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), the needy singleton for whom the film's title is intended. She works herself into a lather whenever any cute guy at a bar doesn't call her in 24 hours; the idea that he might see she's desperate for any man, as opposed to this man, doesn't occur to her or the movie.
Gigi gets a mentor, of sorts, in Alex (Justin Long), a bar manager who coaches her in "what guys really think" with brutal comic sadism. These are funny scenes: A date tells Gigi he's "leaving town on business for a few weeks," she ducks into his bathroom to phone Alex for advice, he asks where the date says he's going, she answers "Pittsburgh," he says "Run!"
"He's Just Not That Into You" offers a world in which young and pretty people have endless technology for communication at their disposal but still have no clue how to talk to each other. That's a cutting observation, but the movie's content to be a bread knife.
Goodwin, a capable and chameleonic actress, is stuck playing a ninny, and Long's Alex is good company until the screenplay insists he start behaving in ways that make no sense. The triangle between the married couple and Johansson's blithe interloper is strained but more interesting to watch, especially when Connelly sublimates her anger over the husband's infidelity by channeling it into a towering fury at his secret smoking.
Surprisingly, Affleck and Aniston create the two most appealing people in the movie - both actors let their maturity show in unexpected ways - but "He's Just Not That Into You" isn't sure what to do with them until the end, when it caves in to the audience's presumed desire for closure and corn.
That would be fine if it didn't feel like a surrender on the filmmakers' own mild commercial terms. Kwapis and his writers stall the inevitable, dogging each storyline until the movie turns long and then overlong, but they know that for this movie to succeed - for the singletons to not torch the theater in a mob - it has to remember it's a movie, which means it's a fantasy, which means it has to end not just happily but nicely.
It's not often you see a film sell out a paperback advice book, but that's what happens here. "He's Just Not That Into You" serves up a big bowl of Chunky Monkey that says: You know what? He really is.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.