The book “He’s Just Not That Into You” was already startlingly old-fashioned when it was published in 2004. From its firm belief that women should never ask men out to its even firmer belief that women are emotional, shoe-buying weepers and men are beer-drinking clods who can’t change (so stop nagging, ladies!), it applied the thinnest layer of “You go, girl!” pseudo-feminism to a bunch of ossified ideas about how the world works and became a best-seller.
And now, the ideas that already seemed tired in 2004 are resurfacing in 2009. Why don’t men call when they say they will? Why do men hate commitment? Why do women date jerks instead of nice guys?
Despite the fact that there are already so many movies about these very questions that you could watch one every night you spend home alone for the rest of your life and never run out, “He’s Just Not That Into You” — the movie — wants you to believe it will tell you the truth about what goes wrong in relationships.
And — maybe this is a spoiler? — the truth, according to the trailers, is that what goes wrong in relationships is that women are mind-bendingly stupid.
In one trailer alone, Ginnifer Goodwin can’t get through a phone call without reading from a script and having her friend stand over her shoulder, and she still bungles it; Drew Barrymore doesn’t understand that being contacted on MySpace isn’t an intimate connection and has to be told by what appear to be her sassy gay friends (and seriously… there are still MySpace jokes?); Jennifer Aniston tells Ben Affleck to stop being nice to her unless they’re going to get married; Goodwin concludes that she hasn’t gotten a phone call because the guy “got hit by a cab”; and Barrymore seems flummoxed by newfangled technologies such as… text messaging.
For women who aren’t stupid — for women who don’t call in reinforcements to make phone calls, who know what MySpace and text messages are, and who don’t make up stories about taxi accidents to explain unreturned phone calls — it isn’t clear what, exactly, the movie has to offer. To them, it will be just another movie that comes from a strange land we will call Chickmovietopia, in which easy ideas about love replace the more complicated ones we know from real life.
What are the laws of Chickmovietopia?
Have your big moments on the sidewalk. If you think back on your most romantic moments, aside from smooches here and there while waiting for cabs, you will likely find that during most of the important ones, you were indoors. During the big confrontations, the big reconciliations, and the big love scenes, you are somewhere pedestrian — like the kitchen.
In Chickmovietopia, you will almost certainly be standing on the sidewalk (or possibly on the doorstep). Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks coming together in the park in “You’ve Got Mail”; Sandra Bullock running into Hugh Grant’s arms in “Two Weeks’ Notice”; and, perhaps most famously, Grant and Andie MacDowell at the end of “Four Weddings And A Funeral,” in which she manages to make the line “Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed” sound a bit more literally dunderheaded than the writer perhaps envisioned.
Self-awareness is universal. If you’ve ever seen Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of a sullen, self-absorbed jerk in “Reality Bites,” you know that he kind of nailed it: The casual meanness, the manipulation of sympathy, and the facial hair that says, “I will break your heart and stink up your apartment.” It’s an eerily accurate portrait of a particular kind of person, until the moment when he shows up — hey, on the sidewalk! — and explains to Winona Ryder his “planet of regret” for the way he’s treated her. In real life that guy does not do that. In Chickmovietopia, it might take him a long time, but he’ll get it eventually. See also: “Jerry Maguire.”
The theory of the emotional flip. In Chickmovietopia, the most important indicator that you will one day be deeply in love with someone is the strength of your instantaneous reaction to that person, whether it is positive or negative. An instant dislike — say, how obnoxious Meg Ryan finds Billy Crystal on their cross-country trip in “When Harry Met Sally” — is almost as good as an instant attraction. Because you can always flip the direction later.
In real life, the logical path is from disliking someone to disliking him either more or less. In Chickmovietopia, the logical path is from intense dislike to intense romantic love. Warning: Dramamine may be required for the abrupt changes of direction.
Women who have sex for fun are destined for pain. In real life, sex for fun can be either a bad idea or… you know, fun. But in Chickmovietopia, it is always, always, always a disaster, particularly for women. Take “The Devil Wears Prada,” where — in a development not present in the book — the heroine sleeps with a sexy fellow she doesn’t know well, only to learn the very next morning that he is plotting and scheming to do evil. This kind of aching regret while the sheets are still warm can certainly happen in real life, but it doesn’t have the utter inevitability it has in Chickmovietopia.
The curative powers of the makeover. In real life, the lesson you eventually learn about attractiveness is that you may not be as attached to physical perfection as you think, particularly once you face some facts about how many people are and are not physically perfect, and once you realize that a person who looked average yesterday looks a lot better today once he’s had a chance to charm you.
In Chickmovietopia, the lesson you eventually learn about attractiveness is that underneath it all, ugly people just need different clothes and contact lenses to become physically perfect, and then you can date them, so don’t give up until they’ve at least been to LensCrafters.
These are the rules of Chickmovietopia. Perhaps “He’s Just Not That Into You” will take place in that world; perhaps it will not. If you’re a woman, just hope you’re smart enough to figure it out.