“You’re not the exception — you’re the rule.”
That’s the blunt insight Justin Long shares with an endearingly idealistic Ginnifer Goodwin in “He’s Just Not That Into You,” the much-anticipated film adaptation of the bestselling self-help book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo. Forget your sister’s friend’s roommate’s cousin who went out with a guy that didn’t call her back for a week and a half after their first date and then ended up happily married to him a year later — she’s the exception, not the rule. The rule is that if a guy is interested in a girl, he’ll call; if he’s not, he won’t.
That message sets the tone for the rest of the movie, which offers viewers the same “no-excuses truth to understanding guys” that the original book promised its readers. Weaving together the stories of various drama-fraught couples and singles in Baltimore, “Not That Into You” paints a painfully familiar picture of all the possible signs a guy could give a girl to indicate that he just might not be interested in her: not calling her, not dating her, not sleeping with her, not marrying her. The incurably romantic Gigi (Goodwin) forlornly wonders why she never hears from guys after that crucial first date; Beth (Jennifer Aniston) puts her foot down when her live-in boyfriend of seven years (Ben Affleck) balks at the prospect of marriage; Janine (Jennifer Connelly) tries to rekindle a passionless marriage with her husband (Bradley Cooper), who struggles to resist the charms of the spunky Anna (Scarlett Johansson).
To its credit, “Not That Into You” eschews the temptation to stereotype men and women as different species with fundamentally different views on love. Kevin Connolly gives one of the movie’s best performances as Johansson’s former hookup buddy turned platonic guy friend who’s still hung up on her, showing that girls are just as guilty of sending mixed signals as guys are.
Goodwin also gives a spot-on portrayal of the film’s target audience — That Girl who waits by her phone on a Friday night wondering why That Guy just won’t call. She’s exasperatingly irksome at points, mostly because her errors are so predictable and avoidable, but as Gigi gets savvy to the ways of men, her character grows in a way no other character in the film does. Connelly — initially the only strong female character in the cast — is achingly insecure and unhappy by the end; Aniston and Johansson seem to learn little and grow less in the course of the movie. Bizarrely enough, it’s the male characters who change, learning to appreciate the women in their lives or even choosing to leave women who are just not that into them. It’s a strange trope for a movie whose central theme is “he won’t change, so you might as well move on.”
Strangely enough, the most painful parts of the movie are the best. Cringe-worthy scenes — like the one in which Ginnifer Goodwin subtly indicates her interest in a guy by hurling herself on top of him — will have viewers simultaneously cracking up and squirming in their seats. Whether out of empathy, astonishment or pure schadenfreude, it’s easy to be entertained by these seemingly winsome women who just can’t get a break when it comes to romance.
But for a movie with a tough-love message, “He’s Just Not That Into You” fails to take its own advice. After two hours of beating its viewers over the head with the whole “you’re not the exception, you’re the rule” mantra, the film regrettably gives in and appeases the fans of its genre with a trite and tried happy ending. What promised to be a rom-com with bite ends anticlimactically with all the obvious couples united and all the loose ends neatly tied up in a pretty pink bow. This Cupid-ex-machina conclusion is a clichéd anticlimax — maybe the directors thought they needed to sweeten the medicine a little, but they undermined their message in the process.
After seeing this film, viewers might have left the theater feeling both entertained and empowered. Instead, the film caters to its base of diehard girly flick fans and weakens its essential message. Despite any hopes that it would be different from all those other rom-coms, “He’s Just Not That Into You” is not the exception — it’s the rule.