November 22nd, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews *He’s Just Not That into You* (book and film)

The premise behind the self-help book and romantic comedy film, He’s Just Not That Into You is that women are socialized to look frenetically for any shred of male affection, and to believe in it where none exists, and this is a formula for vulnerability, sadness, and occasional humiliation. It’s funnier than it sounds.

The first time I saw the movie, I thought it an above-average romantic comedy. It’s in the same vein (but not as charming/more realistic) as Love Actually, with a half-dozen loosely connected couples struggling to find happiness. Chronic romantic loser Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) is willing to do anything for love, but her desperate attempts at flirting always go awry. The only thing man-related thing she’s really good at is analyzing them with her office mates, Janine and Beth, both of whom have their own problems. Janine’s problems are with her home renovations and her husband, Ben; Beth’s are with her engaged sister and her unwilling-to-marry boyfriend. Then Ben strikes up a fliration with a girl named Anna, who was already involved in a weird sexless romance with real-estate agent Conor. Anna’s friend Mary works at a gay newspaper and the film’s only major point about her is that the homosexual guys in Anna’s office offer the same kind of very p0sitive but useless romantic advice that Gigi, Janine, and Beth offer each other.

It’s all very confusing, but you don’t have to know who is related to whom to understand that all the women are lying to themselves and each other when they pursue men: “He’s totally into you” “I know he’s going to call” “You just have to give him a little encouragement” “You just have to be patient” “You should give him a little space” etc., etc. Women–so sweet, so giving, so kind–so eager to believe in love that they’ll believe almost anything. My gender does not come off very well in this film, but most of the performances are surprisingly nuanced.

Gigi suffers a series of standups and humiliations, and during one she meets Alex, a male bartender with no interest in sugarcoating the truth–he tells her that if a guy likes her, he’ll show it; everything else is just delusion. This starts Gigi on the road to some dignity, but it’s a tough road, because she eventually develops the theory that it’s *Alex* that’s into her. It’s complicated, but she’s sweet, he’s sweet, they hook it up by the final frames. Hope I’m not spoiling too much for you–it is a romantic comedy after all.

The central Gigi-Alex relationships hews to that rom-com formula, but the others are more various, and a bit truer to the core of the very depressing book–which is that women put up with too much and ask for too little in the quest for love. I read the book after enjoying the film, hoping it’d be funny in the same vein, and it is…but it made me really sad too. The titular comment is followed by “if” statements–if he doesn’t call, doesn’t compromise, doesn’t care… The first few chapters were empathizable and at the same time wince-worthy: who hasn’t assumed she wrote her email address down wrong, or checked the phone for a dial tone? (for a great, cringey depiction of such behaviour, try Amy Jones’s new story, Atikokan Is for Lovers. But the book points out all kinds of other stuff women excuse in men: from calling her fat to flirting with others, it gets pretty painful in the text version JKMTiY, and I was sort of a wreck when I finished it. My poor sisters!

Ironically, I felt the movie did a better job than the book of showing why ladies feel the need to put up with anything to land a man. The social pressures that women feel to be in a relationship before they can have the home they want, or be accepted by their families, or just to get that big lavish wedding are experienced by various main and secondary characters, in ways that you sympathize with–or at least, I did. I am neither smart nor patient enough to get into all the various story tendrils, but to just cover one more, I thought Jennifer Connelly’s portrayl of Janine–the only married woman in the bunch–was the most touching in the film. Janine is basically a tight-assed home-renovation nut, who eggs poor Gigi to get herself married off though Janine is not particularly enjoying marriage herself–and her husband certainly isn’t. When Ben admits to Janine–in a big box home supply store–“I slept with someone,” Janine clenches with rage. However, she only gets to wield her anger for about 30 seconds, because when Ben announces that he’ll move out, the woman is back in the position of supplicant, pleading, “Don’t you want to…work it out?” Because he cares less than she does, Ben’s admission of guilt poses less threat to him than to her.

The best moment in the movie–or any rom-com I’ve seen in a while, come to that–is when Janine discovers another layer to Ben’s deception and finally loses it. She’s at home alone, and smashes a mirror in her perfect bedroom. Then she seems to go limp for a moment, walks out of the room, then returns with a broom and dustpan, to clean up the mess while she continues to weep.

The movie is of course limited by it’s genre–even if the rhetoric around finding love is broken, romantic love is still the one and only answer. No one seems to be at all interested in their jobs, let alone to have any interests outside of work, and though friends and family are supportive, what they are supportive of is the quest for love. When Gigi decides not to concentrate on hooking up on Saturday night, she spends it alone watching brat-pack movies. In rom-com world, no one but single men want anything to do with a single woman on Saturday night–and there aren’t even any decent movies at the rental place.

I would definitely say watch the movie if you like this genre–it’s lots of fun (and Ben Affleck has a boat!) I’m not sure I recommend the book unless you are a woman prone to getting jerked around by men and don’t know why. Even then, I’m not sure it would help–I’m not sure many women are as deluded as the ones depicted therein. But I worry I’m wrong, and I was basically reduced to a puddle of woe by the book, albeit with a sad little feminist fist in the air. But then I got to call my beloved to relate said woe, so I’m not in ideal position to judge.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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