Playing it Safe
She’s Out of My League is, in some ways, pleasantly surprising. Granted, my expectations going in were pretty much rock bottom, as the trailer sets up yet another raunchy sex comedy, this time based on the idea that a relationship between a hot girl and ugly guy can’t work (um, Beauty and the Beast? Anyone?). In actuality, the film isn’t quite as gross and shallow as you might think.
Airport security screener Kirk (Jay Baruchel) is a really nice guy. He’s also scrawny, average-looking at best, and hugely insecure. According to his misfit friends, Kirk’s a “moodle,” or man poodle: girls want to take him for a walk or cuddle him, but that’s it. As if to illustrate, his ex-girlfriend Marnie (Lindsay Sloane) still hangs around his family with her new boyfriend in tow.
Then Kirk encounters Molly (Alice Eve), a gorgeous lawyer-turned-party planner who, to everyone’s surprise except ours, takes an interest is him. Molly’s friend Patty (Krysten Ritter) tells her she’s making a “safe” choice, while most of Kirk’s friends tell him he can’t win, being a “five” while Molly is a “hard 10.” According to these savants, anything more than a two-point difference on the hotness scale spells romantic doom. Only Devon (Nate Torrence) sees how ridiculous this formula is, as well as how Kirk and Molly are the epitome of Disneyesque match-ups (“She’s Princess Jasmine and you’re the lowly street urchin” or, best of all, singing, “Tale as old as time…”).
Besides the ankle-deep morality fueling this concept, Kirk isn’t even “bad-looking” enough to drive the whole point scale idea home. In fact, Molly and Kirk make a perfectly credible couple to anyone beyond the eighth grade. They are both kind and funny with similar interests and values. The film focuses on Kirk’s need to embrace his “inner-10,” so to speak, to prevent his insecurities from ruining a good thing (although the more realistic deal-breaker between these two would likely be Kirk’s lack of ambition).
Kirk’s and his friends’ superficiality reflects their perpetual adolescence. While this is very familiar territory, it’s at least mildly interesting that the main victims here, by their own admission, are the men. They apply their scale most harshly to themselves. But the opposite extreme, worshipping Molly for her 10-ness, is just as limiting. Molly explains all this to Kirk, not only that she is attracted to him for “who he is” rather than what he looks like, but also that that she is not free to have flaws in the light of his insistence on her perfection.
But apparently, these are not things that men can learn from women, even women as bright and wonderful as Molly. All this indicates a distrust of women generally: when Molly admits to Kirk that he’s not the best looking man, but he may be the best man, he finds her both insulting and literally unbelievable, even though he’s heard both of these things from his friends. Further, in dating a guy “beneath her,” Molly apparently is trying to play it “safe,” as Patty says: but what exactly does this mean? That she doesn’t consider Kirk man enough to hurt her?
So much for progress. Kirk conflicts himself out of the relationship, caught as he is between wanting Molly and wanting to discredit her understanding of him. He and his friends work through their self-esteem and relationship issues among themselves, so that what might look like the usual banal guy-banter becomes a sort of talk-therapy support group. They have to learn to become men from each other, despite the fact that not one of them has figured out what that means for himself, let alone seems qualified to guide the others.