Given that most single guys would be thrilled to have Ginnifer Goodwin as their girlfriend, you have to wonder why Hollywood keeps casting her as the woman who has a hard time finding a decent relationship. She got famous as the immature “sister-wife” Margene in the creepy HBO polygamy series, Big Love. Then she played the girl who can’t find love no matter how desperately she dates around in 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You. And now she’s back in Something Borrowed as the third corner in a romantic triangle. I have no idea what her personal life is like but we can only hope it’s better than the parts she plays.
Both our films are ensemble rom-coms, chock-full of familiar character traits: earnest, self-absorbed, scoundrel, ironic, clueless, and so on. Some of these are main characters and some are the obligatory wacky friends. There are enough people running around in both films coupling and uncoupling that there seems to be a lot going on even when there isn’t. The idea is to cut from one storyline to another, keep the pace up, get some laughs, find some sympathetic moments, get a few more laughs, and tie up things more or less neatly before they run the credits. Everybody seems to have jobs that don’t really interfere with their pursuit of love and sex. Ah, paradise…
Look, I’m a news guy at heart and I know that not every day can be about getting Osama. Some days are about raising the limits on parking ticket fines. While Thor is out hammering the competition, let’s weigh in on the counter-programming of Something Borrowed. It’s a film that obviously would love to be compared to He’s Just Not That Into You, a film that made a very healthy $165-million. Game on.
In Something Borrowed, Dex (Colin Egglesfield) and Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) are well-scrubbed young lawyers you never see work in a New York that is equally scrubbed. They talk non-stop about love, though; in the bar, in the Hamptons, anywhere. Rachel wants love, Dex has vague doubts about his upcoming wedding to Rachel’s best friend, Darcy (Kate Hudson). They form the triangle that gives the film its dramatic (and comedic) focus.
This triangle also pulls in a clueless girlfriend, Claire (Ashley Williams), slacker Marcus (Steve Howey) who is majorly on the make and Rachel’s writer pal/secret admirer, Ethan (John Krasinski from The Office). Luke Greenfield directed this tale of frenemies fighting over a man (are you okay with this, ladies?) from Jennie Snyder Urman’s script from a novel by Emily Griffin.
The film really does strive to say something about our friends and our feelings. It’s also willing to lay out some of the sex issues that get in the way of of romance. These are not easy things to do. More on its success or not in a minute.
The Defending Champion
Gigi (Goodwin, again) is a well-scrubbed cubicle farmer who believes “he’s just not that into you” describes her life. This version of Goodwin also wants love, but doesn’t find it either. She runs into barkeeper Alex (Justin Long, the cool Apple guy) who becomes her secret admirer and our guide to the World of Unworthy Men.
There are plenty of these man-boys running around this film. First, there’s Ben (Bradley Cooper) who can’t love his wife, Janine (Jennifer Connelly), but looks for love and finds sex with would-be singer, Anna (Scarlett Johansson). Then there’s Neil (Ben Affleck), a decent enough guy, but he doesn’t want to marry his girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Aniston) who gives him the ultimatum to come up with a ring or else. And finally there are all the guys in Beth’s extended family — loutish beer swilling couch potatoes.
Directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, based on a self-help book by Greg Berendt and Liz Tuccillo — this is clearly a film where a lot of the men are assholes and a lot of the women are insane. In that mix, it’s trying to make the point that these human relationships are awfully messy and, yet, they end up nice and tidy by the end.
These films share ensemble casting, episodic structure, and a glib tone. In this world, nobody is poor, ugly, fat or very concerned about working. The characters’ worldview is focused inward. We never get to know anyone very deeply or well. Ginnifer Goodwin plays the earnest pleasant woman in both movies and she gets what she wants.
In Something Borrowed, Rachel’s fragility is plain: “I just didn’t think someone like you could like someone like me.” The action is mostly talk: Everyone has something snarky to say, no one more than Darcy. She is self-absorption incarnate. Nothing happens that doesn’t play second-banana to Darcy’s non-stop narrative about her interests, her smugness, her ignorance. Against a backdrop of musical beds new relationships emerge and we are led to believe that true love finally emerges.
The people in He’s Just Not That Into You seem a little better-intentioned, more accessible. Jennifer Aniston owns her scenes.
There is no one else like Kate Hudson’s character in either film — but that doesn’t help her much. As Darcy, Hudson plays loud, vulgar, relentless and unlikable — and I can’t help thinking about Hudson’s real-life mother, Goldie Hawn. She had the knack of infusing dimension into cardboard characters. Goldie would give Darcy a measure of grace. Kate Hudson couldn’t.
Each film has tawdry moments: Alex with the ballpoint pen; Rachel and Dex kissing in the street in front of oncoming headlights. I guess what pushed Something Borrowed over the edge for me was Darcy testing mascara to see which ones wouldn’t run during the wedding ceremony.
I had another “what if” moment about Darcy’s fiancé, Dex. Colin Egglesfield reminds me of Tom Cruise twenty years ago. Cruise would have nailed the charm and desperation needed to make the character special. Egglesfield just comes off wooden.
Now I suppose I could complain that none of the actors in either of these movies could make you forget how Gary Grant, Irene Dunne, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn gave real meaning to the ideas of romance and comedy on film. But these are actors most of the audience for these new films have never seen anyway, so what’s the point? (Hint: That’s what a Netflix subscription is for.)
Gigi’s dilemma is echoed by Anna’s pal, Mary (Drew Barrymore), who pulls off the best speech in the film:
“I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work, so I called him at home. And he emailed me to my Blackberry — and so, I texted to his cell and he emailed to my home account. And the whole thing got out of control… You just have to go around checking these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting!”
At the risk of repeating myself, more musical beds, more belief in true love. Gigi sums up off-screen: “Maybe this happy ending doesn’t include a wonderful guy… maybe the happy ending is just moving on.”
Let’s move on.
The winner is Fast Five. No, wait, that’s the fast car drama I got behind last week. And, honestly, for me, as a guy, I like fast cars as much as I like angsty women and the men they shouldn’t love but do.
Between these two rom-coms, it’s pretty close. One of them serves up a little less cheese, better acting and less off-the-mark attitude. It’s not much, but enough to choose between the two, and give the win to He’s Just Not That Into You. I wasn’t all that into it either, but more than the competition.
Romantic comedy deserves better that’s for damn sure. That’s how I see it.