Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You: A Singletude Review

I'm putting today's planned post about single homeowning on hold because the cinematic version of Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo's bestseller, He's Just Not That Into You, debuted this past weekend. Since the book's title became a rallying cry for countless singles, I know some of you will be lining up to pay homage to its truisms about boys behaving badly and the women who love them. So before you open your wallet and part with the equivalent of three Starbucks runs for the privilege of crushing someone else's cold popcorn kernels into the seat of your pants as the teenage boy behind you generously massages your back with swift, sure, repetitive kicks, I thought I'd put myself in the hot seat and possibly spare you the trouble.

As you may have inferred from previous statements such as "I hate Greg Behrendt," I really don't like Greg Behrendt. I didn't like the simplistic, one-size-fits-all philosophy he espoused in his book, so I didn't think I'd like the movie either. Well, the movie may not have been this year's Love, Actually, but as your standard rainy day romantic comedy, it wasn't half bad, and, to my surprise, I didn't have to give it an automatic thumbs down for towing the Behrendt line. If anything, the movie disputes his theory or at least leaves room for the messier elements of life that complicate relationships.

He's Just Not That Into You employs a star-studded ensemble as a selling point, and the acting is expectedly solid, but the Dickensian web of relationships is more convoluted than clever. I found myself wishing that the writers had condensed the book's talking points into just two or three arcs instead of creating a new character to illustrate each one. As a result, the characters fail to take on lives of their own and have about as much color and dimension as black-and-white sketches accompanying Behrendt's anecdotes. There's Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), the neurotic, pink phone clutching embarrassment to single women everywhere who manages to make every mistake in the dating book but can't imagine why guys don't call her back; Connor (Kevin Connolly), the object of her obsession, who just isn't that into her; Greg Behr--err, Alex (Justin Long), who just isn't that into anyone and makes it his mission to educate Gigi in the secret code of men; sexpot Anna (Scarlett Johansson), who throws herself at a married man, as all voluptuous blondes do; the philandering married man (Bradley Cooper), who of course won't leave his predictably uptight wife (Jennifer Connelly); and several other characters cobbled together from folk wisdom about the evils of cohabitation and the Internet.

The exception in this tribute to rules is Beth, a breath of circulating, if not fresh, air played with real poignancy by Jennifer Aniston, who must know a thing or two about the role of the long-suffering girlfriend coming to terms with her boyfriend's (Ben Affleck) contempt for the institution of marriage. Hers is the only story that pushes the boundaries of the cliche, though it ultimately does a 180 and ends up reinforcing them.

Interspersed with the vignettes are mockumentary-style interviews with sad examples of the female sex, who bolster the book's unstated but unavoidable blame-the-victim thesis. There are some genuinely funny lines here as well as throughout the rest of the movie, which is entertaining enough to rent the DVD and throw a pajama party. But there are also agonizing moments of heartbreak and humiliation that will hit close to home for singles who have been "on the market" for awhile without offering any insight or solution worth a $10 ticket.

And aren't insight and solutions what fans are expecting of the movie based on their favorite self-help book? For them, He's Just Not That Into You will surely disappoint and confuse for the same reasons that it surprised and pleased me: it doesn't actually support the book's prescription for dating success.

See, Behrendt would like single women to believe that men are all-or-nothing roboclones programmed to respond to the opposite sex in one of two ways--either flick them off like dung flies or fly them to the moon on a diamond-encrusted jet. No in between. And, according to Behrendt, this should be the case whether a couple has just met or been together for 30 years. Any man who hesitates to ask a woman out, call her back, commit to a relationship, or marry her just isn't into her and never will be. His philosophy of love leaves no room for baggage, shyness, insecurity, immaturity, or differences in romantic style, much less for the feelings that can blossom out of friendship over time. Plus, by absolving both parties of any blame, he does a disservice to both men and women. The message is that, whether you're a man who rejects women repeatedly and ruthlessly or a woman who's been repeatedly and ruthlessly rejected, you couldn't possibly have any problems except that you haven't found the right one.

Without throwing out any spoilers, let's just say that the movie contradicts this premise, and that, in my opinion, is its saving grace. It shows us relationships, in all their glorious sloppiness, breaking the rules. Friendships grow slowly into something deeper, men rethink their feelings and learn to commit over time, women make the first move and sometimes do get the guy. Interwoven with these anti-lessons are examples that support the book, too, but they succeed because they apply to superficial relationships, and that's where Behrendt's rules are of value. Your mother could've told you--and probably did--that most married men won't leave their wives for a fling. And, given the multiple avenues of communication available in our global society, if a guy doesn't contact you after the first date, he doesn't want a second helping of your wit and charm. Behrendt's problem is that he tries to force those broad-based guidelines to work in specific situations in which complex interactions of personal history, psychological needs, personality dynamics, and value systems determine the course of a relationship. The movie trumps the book because it acknowledges that a catchphrase like "he's just not that into you" isn't sufficient to explain those interactions.

But what I like best about this movie isn't just that it contradicts its source material; it affirms the single life in a way the book never did. In the end, no less than three characters choose to be alone for awhile, and that choice is presented not with pity but with acceptance and encouragement. As the camera pans through a final montage, the concluding voiceover reminds us that sometimes the happy ending is you on your own, making a new life for yourself. I'm into that!

He's Just Not That Into You won't win any awards, but it's cute, true to life, and surprisingly singles-friendly. If you're in the mood to waste some money this weekend, watch with my blessing.

Fun Link of the Day

(Read it and cringe.)

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!


EveryoneThinksThey'reGoodDrivers said...

Ironically enough, I went to see this movie tonight. I think I enjoyed it a little more than you.

It might have been a little long, and there were a lot of stories to follow, I thought it was pretty funny!

I actually hate romantic comedies. Super predictable and far-fetched. Everyone has great jobs and lots of money...blah blah blah.

But I love to laugh, and this one I laughed a lot.

CC Solomon said...

I liked the movie and agree with your commentary about it and the book. I have to admit the book made me very cynical and I "ran" at any hint of "him not being into me". I spoke to an older coworker friend married 30 years and she told me to stop doing that. So the guy I'm seeing now I'm trying my darndest not to do that with and he is proving that the signs that show "he's just not that into you" don't really mean that. Sometimes a guy doesn't call b/c he actually is busy! The movie really allows you to see that there are gray areas. The whole point is to be open within reason.

Clever Elsie said...

Everyone: It definitely had some very funny moments going for it. That was one of the things I liked about it, too.

CC: Thanks for sharing that personal story! It's encouraging to hear anecdotes that depart from the rigid rules presented in books like He's Just Not That Into You. Good luck with your new guy!