Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Was Wrong (Thank God)

We are all programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you.

That’s the premise behind “He’s Just Not That Into You”, that women are conditioned to like jerks. “Come on, you like the drama,” explains Justin Long’s Alex to Ginnifer Goodwin’s Gigi, as she patters on again, wondering why a particular guy doesn’t call her back. Alex, a bar manager, knows all about relationships, you see, and schools her in the ways of human behavior.

Gigi is as insane and silly as the reviews suggest, but Goodwin is bright and perky, which balances out the craziness. Cringing at her is unavoidable, as she is such a stereotype; it’s girls like her that give the rest of us a bad name. She has the largest role in the film, and luckily is an actress that always manages to wring out sympathy for unlikeable characters, as her idiocy could overwhelm the film.

The ensemble works really well; no character is really tackily placed, although by the end of the film you realize that you didn’t see Jennifer Aniston and especially Ben Affleck as much as expected. Scarlett Johannson is quite the vixen, as she normally is (“might as well play it while you can”, said a friend), and as such, this isn’t the movie to see if you’re engaged, as it will probably upset you. Like Rachel Bilson in The Last Kiss, she is designed to be every girl’s worst nightmare.

Marriage is indeed one of the main themes, but the urgency is lost on me. Jennifer Aniston’s Beth has been with Ben Affleck’s Neil for seven years, and even though he is by all accounts the perfect boyfriend, his own flaw—that he just doesn’t care about marriage—becomes all consuming. The pressure she exerts on him!

It was the expectations of marriage that intrigued me. Bradley Cooper’s Ben says that he married Janine (Jennifer Connelly) because they had been dating since college and that he essentially felt he had to, because it looks weird if you don’t after a certain period of time. Beth practically used that same argument. But why does this hold such sway? It is that a relationship starts to smell if it hasn’t been tied up properly?

I’ve always had trouble understanding this. In the “Just Say Yes” episode of Sex and the City, Carrie turns down Aiden’s proposal, and the relationship was over. At the time, I was completely floored. Why did it have to end? I guess I interpreted that even if now wasn’t a good time, who’s to say later on it wouldn’t be?

My father, seeing my confusion, sat me down and gave me a lecture (I had watched the episode with him). “There comes a time in a person’s life,” he said, “when you want to settle down and get married. And she wasn’t ready for that.” He continued on, and I kinda got it, but kinda didn’t. It seems to me, that marriage—and the expectation of marriage—ruins a perfectly good relationship.

Of course, I say this as a person who’s as far away from marriage as one can possibly be, and I am nowhere near looking for something like that. Even as this movie tries to shatter some assumptions—starting with the opening line—it still falls into very conventional storytelling. Despite its predictable rhythms, especially at the end, I was surprised to find that I genuinely enjoyed the movie. I wasn’t angry, upset, depressed, or disappointed. Unlike so many other movies that make me rail against love, I didn’t mind that as much as women are told not to believe they are the exception to every rule, one of the last scenes ends with characters saying that she is the exception to said rule.

One thing that gets me a lot regarding fictional romantic relationships is that they are just so improbable and stupid. It’s not so much the hows and mechanics as it is how the characters relate to one another. Now, granted, "He’s Just Not That Into You" features a lot of characters, and some aren’t developed very fully. The premise worked, though, and I enjoyed how realistic the dilemmas were, even Gigi’s often ridiculous reactions. That kind of understanding worked, and because the movie was grounded in this form of realism, the notions of infidelity and other clichés didn’t bother me.

The final voiceover is very much like the end of Sex and the City, the show that spawned the book that the movie is very loosely based on. Yet no matter how much the movie wants to tell you to ignore much of what you’ve been told, girls, it still can’t resist the lure of the happy third act, of happily ever after. No wonder why we’re so messed up.


Emily said...

This was an excellent write up. I'm still thinking about mine and how to do it, but I mostly agree. I thought I'd hate the movie, especially Gigi, but I enjoyed it, and I even liked her for most of the film. Some of it was cliche and very predictable, but I think it was overall nicely done.

petpluto said...

"It seems to me, that marriage—and the expectation of marriage—ruins a perfectly good relationship."

I love the way you worded this; I think it can ruin a perfectly good relationship, if both couples aren't on the same page. What I would love - and what I haven't been shown yet - is a character who really truly doesn't want to get married, not because s/he hasn't met the right girl or guy but because s/he doesn't see the point - and remain happily unmarried with that person. Because too often, the "uns" are used as a "Oh, they just haven't found the right person yet"; and once they do, they're totally into the marriage thing. Or they have to give in anyway, and discover that this marriage thing is wonderful!

I don't see why the person who wants to remain "un" has to capitulate to the person who wants to do the thing. In an ideal world, you could find someone who had the same feelings about getting married or not to spend the rest of your life with. But in this world, where compromise is tantamount to relationships, I always wonder why it is the "uns" who have to sacrifice. That same thing goes with name-changing by the way; the girl who doesn't want to change her name is always pressured to, because it "means so much to him", and obviously his feelings should come before her own on the subject.

MediaMaven said...

Pet, what do you think of and

I had more to say on the subject--that I'd welcome something that wasn't all about marriage all the time, that you have to compromise, that I don't think the issue of naming is all that big a deal to women and that I don't think many "cave" nowadays, it's personal preference, and something about compromise.

(The link is, funny enough, from the same issue as the other article I linked on your blog...and that I think the numbers are crap and the chart is waay too general.)

LG said...

Gigi...Ginnifer Goodwin...coincidence?