Perhaps John Waters put it best, in his comedy “Female Trouble,” when he had a character observe, “The world of heterosexuals is a sick and disgusting life.” Certainly there’s nothing in the new comedy “He’s Just Not That Into You” that would act as a particularly persuasive advertisement for male-female relationships, with its portrayal of women being either clingy or demanding while the men are cruel or befuddled.
Set in Waters’ hometown of Baltimore — with not one accented character to identify it as such — “HJNTIY” follows a series of interconnected characters through romantic foibles. Relationships fall apart while other ones struggle to get going, and pretty much every scene involves people talking about relationships and dating and when a guy is into you and when a girl isn’t.
This is one of those movies that is always about what it’s about. It’s like “Crash,” only about love instead of racism. And with more intentional humor. “HJNTIY” is the kind of movie that women should see together and men should see together, but no straight couple should watch it on a date if they don’t want to have a long and uncomfortable conversation afterward about where the relationship is going.
Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bright-eyed veteran of the dating scene, always waiting to hear from the guy who says he’s going to call, even though she’s often disappointed. While trying to track down a recent date (realtor Conor, played by Kevin Connolly) at his favorite watering hole, bartender Alex (Justin Long) lays down a few harsh truths for her about men, their excuses and how to tell whether or not they’re really interested.
Conor, meanwhile, is mooning after Anna (Scarlett Johannson), a yoga instructor and would-be singer who remains affectionate with him but won’t sleep with him anymore. Anna hopes that hunky lawyer Ben (Bradley Cooper) will leave his wife Janine (Jennifer Connelly) for her, while Janine and Gigi’s co-worker Beth (Jennifer Aniston) just kicked out her longtime boyfriend — and Ben’s best friend — Neil (Ben Affleck) for not wanting to get married. And so on.
The classic Frank Tashlin comedy “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” once described TV specials as “the one-line joke stretched into the 90 minute spectacular,” and “HJNTIY” almost fits that description: Its title started out as a line on “Sex and the City,” which then became a romance-advice book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo before being turned into a 124-minute movie by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein.
The screenwriters provide a good number of solid laughs (mostly from awkward situations) and even pepper the film with some hard (by rom-com standards) truths — one of the best scenes has Gigi figuring that jerk guys who then become perfect husbands are the exception, but most people wind up being the rule.
It’s too bad that the script and director Ken Kwapis can’t resist driving this chick-flick to Schmoopytown, reversing its blunt relationship advice with happy endings getting doled out to most (but not, thankfully, all) of the characters. Despite some fun performances — most notably from Goodwin, Long and Cooper, as well as cameos by Luis Guzman, Kris Kristofferson and comic duo Frangela — this failure of nerve undercuts a movie that had the potential to be a romantic comedy with some bite.