[6 February 2003]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
There are any number of minor disasters associated with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It reveals once again, in case you doubted, that Matthew McConaughey has dreadful taste in romantic comedies. It provides another opportunity to compare Kate Hudson unfavorably with her mother, who was, of course, who was superb in this very genre. And it squanders the talents of Bebe Neuwirth and Michael Michele. Still, its most troubling point is that it’s produced by the long-absent Robert Evans, so roundly hailed last year on the release of The Kid Stays in the Picture, the remarkable documentary on his remarkable life. If this flip little film is supposed to herald his triumphant return to Paramount, he’s better off retired.
How to Lose a Guy sets up with a premise that’s probably just a little too crafty. Andie Anderson (Hudson) is the “how to” columnist for “the fastest growing women’s fashion magazine in the country, the New York-based Composure. Though she writes pieces with titles like “How to Get a Better Body in 5 Days” or “How to Feng Shui Your Apartment,” she’s a serious girl with an MA in journalism from Columbia; she sees this gig as a means to an end, that is, a chance to write about “things that matter,” like, oh, Tajikistan.
In order to get such assignments, though, she’s got to win over her editor, Lana (Neuwirth, who scoots right along with this bitch-on-wheels role), who sees the mag’s mission pretty narrowly—stories on designer bags, botox, and “deadly pedicures,” everything ending “upbeat.” On the spot during a staff meeting, Andie pitches “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” a manual on the “classic mistakes” girls tend to make with their boys: acting clingy, listening to Jewel and Carly Simon, leaving tampons in his medicine cabinet, etc. (It’s worth noting here that the screenplay, by Kristen Buckley and Brian Regan, and apparently touched up by Burr Steers—the man who made the impressive Igby Goes Down—is inspired by an actual self-help book by this name, which only suggests the sorry state of inspiration in the movie industry.)
The catch will be that, the “how to” girl is supposed to act out her article before she writes it: it’s not clear why this is, but a little montage showing her in the gym and moving furniture under the opening credits suggests that this is her M.O. And so, she heads off to the nearest “après-work watering hole” to find her mark, whom she will seduce and then drive off in the allotted time.
All this is laid out in just a few minutes, intercut with the setup for this very mark, Ben Barry (McConaughey). He works for an advertising agency, and has a knack for selling sports equipment. Yearning to move on up, he sets his sights on a big new account, which happens to be a diamond company (so Andie/Hudson can wear a splendiferous $5,280,000 icy wreath at the climactic hoedown). And so, Ben makes a bet with his boss (Robert Klein), that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. As in Andie’s case, the logic of this arrangement is unclear, except that the genre demands they have opposite interests so that they must struggle against actually falling in love with one another, or the movie version of same.
La-de-da. The couple-that-will-be meets cute at the bar. Or, more accurately, they are engineered into meeting by Ben’s rivals at the ad agency, the “Judys,” Spears (Michael Michele) and Green (Shalom Harlow), who know both players’ agendas, and imagine that Andie’s ulterior motive will trump Ben’s, and so they’ll win the diamond account away from him. As their tandem name implies, these two tend to appear on screen together, nattering and scheming and looking great in their chic matching suits.
Perhaps with an eye toward balance, the film provides each of the protagonists with a pair of natterers as well, coworkers who alternately gawk or egg on, even, on occasion, pass vague judgment on bad behavior. This ensures that neither Andie nor Ben has to spend much time thinking through choices or repercussions, as these paired buddies articulate variations on every already obvious point. Omigod, you left stuffed animals all over his bed? Or, Dude! She made you go to a Celine Dion concert?!
This back-and-forth creates a certain energy, erratic, but in motion. But then Andie takes Ben to see a fake couples therapist, forcing his hand. In a deperate attempt to please her, he takes Andie home to meet his folks, out on Staten Island (entailing a fresh-air-romantic ferry ride), How to Lose a Guy rather loses its way. When his mother whispers in Andie’s ear, “Don’t you break his heart,” the double-double-cross plot takes a backseat to the really in-love plot. They play cards, ride his motorcycle, get splashed in a puddle, have sex in the bathroom. She’s so cute, he’s so cute, everyone’s so cute.
This sort of contrived coupling plot is nothing if not predictable. The two prettiest people in the room will eventually stop tormenting each other, put on fancy clothes, and kiss for a cheering audience. The decent versions of this plot go through the motions quickly and reasonably intelligently. Even the lame versions can say a little something about things that matter, even if these things aren’t immediately visible on screen. This one might think its point is revealed in Ben’s ostensibly genius line for the diamonds campaign—“Frost Yourself,” meaning, he says, that women don’t need men to give them diamonds, they can get them on their own. You know, like, “Independent women, part 3.”
But its point is, in truth, more depressing and more conventional: she will give up her chance for a job in Washington, he will get tampons in his medicine cabinet. In 10 days.