Since its beginnings, Hollywood has sought inspiration from other types of media. Novels, plays and real-life events have long been sources for film narratives and more recently comic books and even video games have found themselves adapted into films. Tracing a film’s lineage has become increasingly difficult and often confusing as of late, however. Take for example 2007’s Hairspray, a story that made the journey from John Waters’ original film to Broadway before heading back to the big screen.
One must go even deeper when tracing the history of Ken Kwapis’ He’s Just Not That Into You, with the added distraction of switching between fiction and non-fiction along the way. It’s a fictional film based on the non-fiction bestseller of the same name, itself inspired by the fictional television show Sex in the City, also based on a non-fiction bestseller. With such an impressive pedigree of inspirations and a cast of the genre’s biggest stars, He’s Just Not That Into You could have been the perfect chick flick.
He’s Just Not That Into You begins by claiming to have identified the source of women’s relationship problems. Using the analogy of misinterpreting playground bullying as affection, it states that women are unable to understand the meanings behind men’s actions due to bad advice from other women. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Gigi, an optimistic young woman for whom men are a complete mystery. She continually fails at her attempts to find love until she’s given guidance from Alex, a crass bar manager who decodes the complex language of men’s signals for her.
Gigi’s story is the centerpiece of the film and the other plots involve her co-workers and friends, each facing their own unique relationship dilemma. Beth has reached an impasse in her long-term relationship with Neil and decides to leave him after he refuses marry her. Happily married Janine and Ben are having problems of their own in the form of the sexy Anna, a temptation that Ben is unable to resist. Lastly we have Conor and Mary, two career-minded professionals who have created the perfect lives for themselves and only want to share it with someone.
He’s Just Not That Into You ambitiously attempts to cover enough relationship problems to fill four romantic comedies and, to its credit, does surprisingly well at keeping everything together in a coherent manner. Gennifer Goodwin’s Gigi, who manages to outshine her more famous costars and deliver the film’s best performance, grounds the film, giving viewers a likeable protagonist with which to identify. Infectiously optimistic, Gigi is depicted as naive but not unintelligent. The other characters chide her innocence and inability to understand the opposite sex but Gigi is ultimately revealed to be the only one who truly understands love.
Unfortunately the subplots don’t have the same energy or appeal as the main storyline. Gigi’s fate is a foregone conclusion but this is even truer for the subplots, particularly in the case of Beth (Jennifer Anniston) and Neil (Ben Affleck). The film spends an undeservedly long time on Beth’s unspoken inner turmoil, which appears for the most part to be an effort to give Anniston more screen time. The resolution of their conflict feels as if it was picked from a list of chick flick clichés and is therefore anticlimactic.
The Janine/Ben/Anna love triangle bucks romantic comedy tradition by having an ending that is unhappy for all involved but still manages to outstay its welcome. The film makes it difficult for the audience to connect with anyone; a misstep given that the story is structured to make Jennifer Connelly’s Janine a sympathetic character. Their relationship offers the film’s only visual metaphor, an unfinished brownstone, but one that is too pedestrian to be of any consequence.
Ken Kwapis is best known for his work in television and much of He’s Just Not That Into You has the same visual style. Lots of interiors and close ups are used, giving the film a personal but at the same time claustrophobic look. Fewer static camera shots and a greater variance of locations would have given the film better sense of movement and helped the pacing.
Intertitles and faux-interview segments offer comic relief and an interesting structure to the film but ultimately slow down the pace and further give He’s Just Not That Into You a “television” appearance. The standard DVD of He’s Just Not That Into You was used for this review and only offered a small selection of deleted scenes as a bonus feature.
He’s Just Not That Into You unsuccessfully flirts with innovations to the romantic comedy formula but only truly finds its way when it returns to simple boy-meets-girl storytelling. There is a subtle subversiveness to the film that defies the audience’s expectations for it. Instead of offering a modern spin on romance in the vein of Sex in the City and other recent hits, He’s Just Not That Into You presents a far more traditional, conservative take on love and relationships.
Gigi’s innocent quest for love is funny and entertaining but all too often eclipsed by the more complex problems of her friends. He’s Just Not That Into You ultimately tries to do too much and spends too much time mired in unnecessary melodrama, making the journey to its genuinely likeable heart too arduous for most viewers to make.