A film inspired by a single line of dialogue in a Sex and the City episode, He’s Just Not That Into You follows the romantic travails of several Baltimore-based friends in their 20s and 30s. Repeatedly, they run up against a basic rule of dating: men who treat women badly are jerks. Except… when they’re in a star-studded romantic comedy, in which case, most all are redeemable.
He’s Just Not That Into You is full of A-listers, all playing out one stereotype or another: Mary (Drew Barrymore) is the bookish, technologically-addled girl with tons of gay guy friends but no straight prospects; Anna (Scarlett Johansson) is the sultry yoga instructor/struggling singer pining for the married man; Janine (Jennifer Connelly) is the polished, uptight wife oblivious to her husband’s inner turmoil; Beth (Jennifer Aniston) is the beautiful but still-single-and-getting-older sister; and finally, Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the adorably desperate girl who sees every random happy hour encounter as a chance to meet her Mr. Right.
The men are equally weak: Alex (Justin Long) is the sage bartender; Ben (Bradley Cooper) is the tempted married man in the midst of an early-onset midlife crisis; Neil (Ben Affleck) is the guy who will never get married because he doesn’t need a certificate to prove his love; and Connor (Kevin Connolly) loves a girl who only sees him as a friend. It would require a flowchart to demonstrate how everyone is connected, but that doesn’t keep the film from being simplistic in the extreme.
According to He’s Just Not That Into You, women tend towards pathological rationalization that starts at a very young age. When, as the opening scene illustrates, a boy stomps on a little girl’s sandcastle at the playground, pushes her to the ground, and then tells her she’s “made of poo,” her mother comforts her with the assurance that he is mean because he likes her. And so it follows that this same little girl grows up interpreting every insult and injury inflicted by the object of her desire as a sign of his affection and/or of his lack of self-awareness: his bad behavior is always excused since he simply knows not what he does.
The result is an endless quest to interpret and reinterpret the signs to her advantage — signs that he’s interested, that he’ll change, that he’ll marry her, that he’ll leave his wife, etc. More often than not, however, signs are misinterpreted. Some misreadings are obsessive and unhealthy (Gigi sees boorish behavior as some twisted term of endearment), others are trivial, as when Janine fixates on whether or not Ben has started smoking again. She is driven to make Ben understand what smoking signifies to her, that is, betrayal, as her father died of lung cancer. In doing so, she misses what smoking signifies for Ben, namely, rebellion and a potential for a much more serious betrayal. Alex, who becomes Gigi’s sounding board for her dating misadventures, insists there are no legible signs of interest (if a guy wants to date you, he will), all the while pointing out signs of disinterest. He remains stubbornly unaware of his own signs and must have them read to him by, of course, women.
He’s Just Not That Into You is a standard chick flick, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it’s cute and comic and organized according to fixed, mostly ancient gender roles. All men fear commitment and all women want it. Janine blames herself for her marriage trouble with the usual self-loathing observations that she “used to be fun” and that they never have sex anymore (put another way, these are the only things that matter to a husband). Ben looks like a victim of Anna’s rationalization that she must pursue her Mr. Right, even if he’s married to someone else. Worst of all, Beth is reduced to “earning” a marriage proposal from Neil, by sacrificing her desire for marriage altogether.