Valentine’s Day is in the air; the stores are filled to the rafters with cards and red hearts — and even giant chocolate bunnies as merchants rush the holidays and compress our year alarmingly. So. You buy a card, perhaps some chocolate, some roses, some lingerie. Good for you. How about dinner and a movie? That’s the ticket. Ah, but which movie? What do women want? They want movies about women and love. They’d prefer good movies about women and love, but even mediocre to bad ones will do in a pinch. They like their chickflicks like they like their men. There. But in a perfect movie-watching universe such as ours, with a multiplex in every town and classic films readily available, for the perfect romantic date night, which movie to watch?
A wise, if snarky, friend once explained his secret of a happy love life, claiming that once he accepted the basic premise that all men are (pardon his French) assholes, and all women are insane, there remained precious little left to argue about. Director Ken Kwapis, screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, bestselling authors of the source material Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo all apparently got the same memo. In He’s Just Not That Into You, movie-world “Baltimore” is a bucolic urban shire, mostly peopled with hobbit-sized beautiful, crazy (read: needy) women looking for marriage and the commitment-phobic assholes who refuse to love them enough. Everyone is diminutive except for the biggest asshole of all, Bradley Cooper’s Ben, a blue-eyed satyr who lopes through the film in unblinking disbelief that both super-hotties, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Connelly, want him. Ben Affleck plays the saintly Neil who woos and wins sad-eyed Jennifer Aniston’s Beth and gets to keep his pants in the bargain.
The Defending Champion
Four Weddings And A Funeral has been much repeated but never improved upon. Richard Curtis wrote the charming screenplay, and Mike Newell directed a faultless ensemble cast led by Hugh Grant and the lovely Andie MacDowell as the woman he meets, beds, then woos at a series of weddings and a funeral. This simplest of structures delivers two hours of non-stop character-based comedy, drama, and winning romance. Hugh Grant, at his floppy-haired and stammering best, won over the hearts and minds of the whole world with his star turn as Charles.
In He’s Just Not That Into You, all the bars, offices, and apartments feature walls of exposed brick, and floors of polished wood. Apartment interiors are hung with original contemporary art; all the interior décor as impeccably arranged and lovely, as the characters’ interior lives are unattended and messy. We’re not in the usual chick flick territory; Patricia Field’s anything-for-a-wow costumes are nowhere to be found… or rather, they’re elsewhere, on a screen near you in the glitzy fantasy Confessions of A Shopaholic. No, these women wear wearable human clothing. They’re dressing real.
The women all seem remarkably self-sufficient, if nutty and desperate; they apparently manage to hold down jobs and afford clothing and haircuts and manicures. Janine (Jennifer Connelly) effectively plays it taut and desperate, her tightly wrapped perfectionism choking the life out of everyone in her orbit. Mary (Drew Barrymore) is comparatively grounded and only slightly pathetic. The story is mostly told through the particularly desperate mating pursuit of Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), following her from a going-nowhere-fast first date through a happy if mildly predictable ending. A sweet enough, but essentially aching void, she chases after any man who will like her, who will call her after a drink or two. Indiscriminately, she scans any room for a man, any man, who will give her the time of day. (One guesses she carries a laminated clipping in her wallet or her heart, the classic warning single women that her chances of matrimonial bliss are mathematically less certain than accidental death by terrorist attack.) Watching an un-ringing phone like a hen warming an un-hatched egg, she hovers one conversation away from the brink of tears and more lasting mental collapse; her workplace-based friendships revolve entirely around parsing the meanings of the essentially meaningless gestures and random careless utterances of the men she meets. These men don’t even deserve the classic category of rats; they’re Lilliputian neutered dogs who collect women; it’s their game and the women mere pawns with no chance of a win or any real place.
There are plenty of crossed signals and chaste kisses but no real passion. The Holy Grail For Girls is that elusive and too-vaunted diamond ring, even though marriage is demonstrably the end of sex. Only bad-girl home-wrecker Anna (Scarlett Johansson) has much of a sex drive, and even she doesn’t seem to enjoy herself much. After one particularly disappointing tumble with Frodo — oops, I mean Realtor Conor Barry (Kevin Connolly) — she looks heavenward wishing for a time machine. She’s something of a cipher, an aspiring singer whose song we do not hear. Ah, Baltimore, music capital of…Maryland?
There are a few weddings in the film and a few other nicely tied ribbons. Surprisingly, the entire ensemble twists and turns and winds up matched and uncoupled in interesting combinations by the end, but one can’t help but think that the women could use more backbone, clearer life goals and some serious therapy, while the men deserve a slap across the face and perhaps a sobering glance or two in a mirror. Only the gay men seem to have a clue as to what’s going on; they’re thick as fleas, and they see beneath the surfaces and codes far more clearly than their hetero counterparts. Love is one big mystery, and even the Reds-style witnesses and subtitles aren’t much help in making much sense of all the clues dropped along the way; we remain lost in the woods. None of the characters have much going on in their paper-thin lives; they exist to flesh out the mostly diagrammatic mating dance. The film is not totally devoid of charm; one devoutly wishes the adorably loopy Mary (Drew Barrymore) a deservedly happy ending, and the pouty, overripe, and careless Anna (Ms. Johansson) her comeuppance.
Intelligent and touching, Four Weddings introduces us to a large group of loosely connected friends and their families. Without stooping to explanatory speechifying, we get to know and care for every character. When death comes to one of them (this is hardly a spoiler – check out the title) we’re shocked and saddened. The characters are educated and clever, individuated and fully alive.
Seems like a no-brainer, really… women like to watch films about relationships with women in them. And love. Women don’t really hanker after Bruckheimer-esque explosions and car chases and testosterone-fueled revenge fantasies. Oh sure, on the arm of some guy on date night, they’ll go see just about anything, but they’re looking for clues, for validation, for a road map. They’re looking to see some reflection of their own lives. And they find precious little of real quality.
Most women on the silver screen are still arm candy or suicidal harridans, nuns or Nazis, whores and victims, tokens and saints. Meryl Streep, commenting on this year’s Academy Award race, noted that the five Best Picture nominees are dominated by males. Twenty-six males to one female is the ratio. If the reverse were true, imagine the uproar. Nothing much has changed. Which is why the tepid relationship-centric release, He’s Just Not That Into You will surprise the ever-myopic powers-that-be as women flock to the multiplex in droves, dragging their friends and significant others along with them.
The lovely thing about Mike Newell’s Four Weddings And A Funeral is that men don’t have to be dragged. Unashamedly a chick flick, this one’s got something for the boys. Not all the men are assholes, and the women are lovely and complex grownups. The laughs come often, and the situations remain still fresh as a daisy. Dinner and a movie for Valentine’s Day? Four Weddings And A Funeral is my hearty recommendation. Nothing’s topped it yet. Watch it with someone you love or with someone you want to love…you just might get lucky.