A recent New Yorker profile of the actress Anna Faris sheds fascinating if deeply depressing light onto the process of getting a “female-driven movie” off the ground in Hollywood. The article reveals that comedies about women focus less on giving them inspired material and more on making them likable and not threatening in any way—which translates to lots of cute smiles and light slapstick.
Ginnifer Goodwin, the star of Something Borrowed, doesn’t have the same comic dexterity and fearlessness as Faris; she’s too sunny to picture in darker fare like Observe and Report or Smiley Face. But when Goodwin first appeared in movies, like her best-friend role in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004), she was, indeed, funny: spazzy, high-spirited, and offbeat. As her roles have gotten bigger, though, Goodwin has settled for that generic, executive-friendly likability—which, it should be said, she has in spades.
For a little while during Something Borrowed, it seems as if the movie might use and even subvert Goodwin’s natural charm to exacerbate a morally sticky situation. Goodwin plays Rachel, an attorney and consummate good girl, who has maintained a lifelong friendship with the more self-centered, airheaded Darcy (Kate Hudson). As the movie opens, Darcy is throwing Rachel a 30th birthday party that nonetheless manages to showcase Darcy’s upcoming nuptials. We learn that Darcy met her fiancé Dexter (Colin Egglesfield) when he was Rachel’s flirty classmate in law school.
In other words, Rachel saw him first—maybe that’s the justification for her decision to sleep with Dexter later that night. Soon Rachel is carrying on an affair with her best friend’s guy and lying about it, and watching the charming Goodwin participate in infidelity lends Something Borrowed (based on the Emily Griffin bestseller) a welcome moral messiness, setting it apart from the rom-com-dram genre. The movie is too earnest to play this situation for any big laughs, but it at least keeps Rachel’s faux-adorable klutziness to a realistic minimum (if still unnecessarily present).
But that pesky likability issue keeps undermining the movie’s integrity. Having Goodwin play Rachel should be all the movie needs to get us on her side—her wounded, unspoken reactions to Darcy and Dexter say plenty—but instead the screenplay piles on additional reasons for her behavior. To maintain Rachel’s status as heroine (accompanied, of course, by the ridiculous idea that she’s not gorgeous), the movie must make Darcy’s unworthiness clear, and what begins as a faintly realistic study of complicated female friendship becomes unbalanced. As Hudson plays against her own perpetually sunny type, the emphasis on Darcy’s toxic self-obsession undermines the movie’s initial ambiguities.
Rather than repeatedly contrasting Rachel’s semi-serious dilemma and Darcy’s semi-amusing narcissism, the film might’ve concentrated on making the rest of their world more believable. Instead, anyone outside the small circle of Rachel, Darcy, Dex, and the girls’ other childhood friend Ethan (John Krasinski) is reduced to an unfunny cartoon. The central foursome spends several weekends at the Hamptons with characters like Dexter’s buddy Marcus (Steve Howey) and Darcy’s pal Claire (Ashley Williams) who exist only as caricatured, quasi-comic annoyances and barely share any scenes with their supposed friends.
That said, Dexter himself barely registers a personality. Despite the screenplay’s insistences to the contrary, the movie can’t shake the feeling that Dex and Rachel pine for each other not due to a deep spiritual connection or even casual chemistry, but because Egglesfield looks like Tom Cruise with a dash of Wes Bentley and Goodwin is, as mentioned, extremely adorable. Goodwin looks like she’s having a better time opposite Krasinski, who seems to be playing the rare heterosexual friend who isn’t a stealth love interest—until he confesses a crush that makes sense on a personal level but contributes nothing to the movie’s story.
This tin ear for human relationships is frustrating because Something Borrowed does have more to offer than the typical wedding-obsessed rom-com. It presents New York City in warm colors, rather than the over-lighting common to this genre, but the movie lacks the heartfelt energy of director Luke Greenfield’s previous comedy, The Girl Next Door. This is the kind of movie that tries to wring laughs out of repeated sarcastic utterances of “Wow,” a Krasinski trademark that everyone else on set apparently adapted.
The lazy, inoffensive attempts at humor match the movie’s caution with drama. Moral gray areas like sleeping with your horrible best friend’s fiancé are turned into opportunities for self-actualization. But as Rachel and Dex learn screenplay-ready lessons about taking chances and refusing to do what’s expected, Goodwin, as good as she is here, is not actualized at all. She’s just likable. Enough.