[17 September 2013]
Set in Los Angeles, It’s Not You, It’s Me is a compact, engaging indie but is nonetheless flawed. Too much like He’s Just Not That Into You, another, starrier film that also took its title from a romantic cliché, it pits an off-putting, judgmental good girl against an appealing bad girl—a formula that’s less easy to overlook than the title.
The movie spends much of its time inside the heads of its 30something protagonists, as they navigate their way through the collapse of a long-term relationship. It follows poised and lovely Carrie (Joelle Carter) and her rather less poised boyfriend Dave (Ross McCall) while he grows skittish about the idea of being a committed relationship for the rest of his life. Dave and Carrie are both familiar types: he’s a slightly scruffy, occasionally charming serial monogamist who hears the rattle of chains in Carrie’s joking suggestion that she’d take any sort of marriage proposal, thanks very much. He’s also visibly flaky in the opening scene, where he appears in a coffee shop, unable to settle on an order, evoking—among other possibilities—the scene in You’ve Got Mail, in which a caustic Tom Hanks theorizes that the options available in a Starbucks allow the chronically indecisive to feel validated by making coffee choices.
Carrie, by contrast, makes lots of choices. As women in this type of film often do, she works in a profession that values communication and empathy, which is to say, she’s a primary school teacher beloved by her pupils. She’s warm, funny, and outwardly calm, presented as superior to the challenging, unhappy Melissa (Amber Seyer), with whom Dave has a certain amount of history. Carrie also holds the financial power in this relationship, as she and Dave are living in her home. When Dave moves out, the movie is sure to underline that he takes with him only a meager collection of possessions.
Their respective neuroses are represented by the somewhat Woody Allen-ish gimmick of having parts of their psyches represented by cartoonish archetypes who show up in a bright white room, helpfully accessorized in pink for the girl, blue for the boy. While Dave’s headspace is dominated by, among others, a tremulous little boy, a beardy nihilist, and a sex-obsessed boor, Carrie’s head, despite her outward perfection, also conforms to the worst stereotypes of her gender. She’s lumbered with a winsome little girl who desperately wants to believe in fairy tales, a ferociously critical glamazon who trades in self-censure, a paranoid bunny-boiler, and an ineffectual hippie. There’s also a sassy black woman who voices Carrie’s feminist leanings, but only in so far as these relate to guilt-free sex. This figure has nothing at all to say about Carrie’s taking the time to iron Dave’s shirts before he arrives to collect them. Still, I was almost impressed that writer-director Nathan Ives managed to work that last one in, despite the unusual paucity of best-friend time in the film.
From here, the film follows a tried and true story structure. Dave is made to see the error of his ways by a personal tragedy, and goes on to work on both his anxieties and his financial prospects. With the aid of a therapist, he begins to understand the roots of his behavior, and realizes that he does want a commitment after all, just as Carrie finds solace in the arms of a more suitable, reliable man. Despite this last hiccup, Dave and Carrie do manage to reach a happy ending of sorts, though one which is pleasingly untidy next to most of the genre.
It’s Not You, It’s Me is fitfully entertaining, but it’s a little disappointing that the guys get the best lines throughout. Dave’s a marginally more rounded character than Carrie, who is defined by her relationships to men and their shared perception of her as the perfect girlfriend, a notion marred only by her ticking biological clock. She’s still more convincing than poor Melissa, who’s consigned to the role of trampy, needy ex, her rage played for cheap laughs rather than any measure of wit or pathos.
The suggestion is that Melissa deserves the ill treatment she gets, as she’s the kind of girl who approaches guys like Dave in bars for sex, rather than the kind of girl, like Carrie, who keeps an ordered home. Both types here embody the even more tedious assertion that all women—trampy and orderly—want to tie men down, and that owning a vagina makes ‘em go a little crazy, however modern and independent they may seem.