(New Line) Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Kris Kristofferson, Luis Guzman, Busy Philipps. Directed by Ken Kwapis.
Establishing a relationship has never been more complicated or gut-wrenching as it is in the 21st century. While the ability of the sexes to interpret the signals of the other has remained the same – woefully inadequate – the means for communicating those signals have grown exponentially. As one character sighs in this romantic comedy, it’s now possible to be rejected by seven different technologies. Romeo and Juliet beset by digital dejection in an Internet age.
Gigi (Goodwin) is on a date with Conor (Connolly), a successful realtor. The date seems to be going pretty well, and as they part Gigi anticipates a call from Conor, thinking there might be a real connection between them. So she waits…and she waits…and still the phone refuses to ring.
Anna (Johansson) runs into Ben (Cooper) at a corner grocery, and thinks they’ve formed a connection. The problem is that Ben is married to neurotic Janine (Connelly), and while he promises help with Anna’s singing career, he is troubled by his attraction to her.
Beth (Aniston) and Neil (Affleck) have been together for seven years. While Beth wants commitment and marriage, Neil is averse to the whole idea of marriage. After all, he is committed to her he supports her in every way and loves her completely. Why do they need any further confirmation of a relationship that already exists?
As Gigi comes to the realization that Conor perhaps may not call, she hooks up with Alex (Long), a close friend of Conor who offers her valuable insight as to the ways of men. She begins to view him at first as something of a mentor, but eventually begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Meanwhile, Conor – who had a previous relationship with Anna, still pines for her. Anna, for her part, is friendly with Conor and in some ways leads him on, but focuses on pursuing Ben, after a conversation with her friend Mary (Barrymore), who coincidentally works at a local weekly as an ad rep, servicing Conor’s advertising account. Meanwhile, Beth and Neil have split up as Beth has come to the conclusion that she and Neil no longer want the same things.
Based on a best-selling self-help book, the movie has an excellent ensemble cast and they perform to expectations. Director Kwapis, a veteran of television and big-screen light comedies, manages the entwined storylines nicely, and manages to give all of the storylines more or less equal attention (with the exception of Barrymore, who also produced the movie).
The viewpoint is distinctly feminine. Most of the male characters embody stereotypical male sins – cheating, commitment-phobia, and objectification, to name a few. However, to be fair, the women have their share of neuroses as well. Janine is a control freak who has an absolute phobia of smoking. In fact, when she finds out about her husband’s infidelity, she is much more irritated about the possibility that he might be smoking behind her back. Gigi is a tightly-wound stalker-in-the-making who is so un-self-confident that is almost desperate for a relationship to work, no matter how self-destructive that relationship might be.
The problem I have is two-fold. First, the situations tend to be terribly cliché; there are few surprises and quite frankly, you can see where each relationship is headed without exception. In that case, the characters should be interesting enough to make the audience want to go along for the ride even though there’s no shock as to where they’re headed. The sad fact is, they’re really not, drawn from cookie-cutter issues. Gigi as a character is particularly hard to relate to as she is just sooooooo annoying, and her chosen man Alex is not much better.
Still, there are laughs to be had, and a few insights as well, albeit none that are terribly new or different. The attractive cast does as good a job as possible given the limitations of the script, so you might not find this a complete waste of time. However, guys be warned; there is precious little examination of what truly motivates men to behave the way they do in relationships; rather, this is more of an excoriation of male vices. Most of the women here don’t fare much better, being painted as needy and neurotic; they are defined by the men they’re with more than the people they are. In that sense, this is much more insidious misogyny than any episode of “Married…With Children” than I can recall.
In fact, there are many far better examinations of the ways and means of 21st century romance than this. You’d be better off seeking them out at your local rental store, online or at your video-on-demand outlet.
WHY RENT THIS: An attractive and talented cast performing really well at times. Some genuinely funny moments, but not many.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cookie-cutter characters populate a script riddled with clichés. Estrogen-laden world view that spares little thought to what really motivates men in favor of pointing out their failings. Goodwin and Long are genuinely annoying.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual innuendo going on here and a few heavy make-out sessions, but nothing you wouldn’t see on a TV drama.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Greg Behrendt, the author of the book the movie is based on, makes a cameo as a minister at Beth’s sister’s wedding.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.
FINAL RATING: 4/10