Does anyone remember He’s Just Not That Into You? It’s a 2009 romcom that makes use of an all-star ensemble, just one of the slew of films Hollywood churned out after the UK stumbled onto the seemingly winning formula with Love Actually (2004). The film tells a number of interlinked stories about love and relationships, and is based on the self-help book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccilo, which in turn was inspired by a single line of dialogue in HBO’s Sex and the City.
The problems with Sex and the City are prolific enough to warrant their own post, so the film is hardly getting off to a good start. Romcoms are not supposed to be particularly groundbreaking – they are designed to be light entertainment to be enjoyed on an evening out, or perhaps cosied up in bed, but does that mean they should be able to be so lazy in terms of gender classification?
According to the high majority of romcoms, with He’s Just Not That Into You being a particularly notable offender, women are desperate for love and must work hard to snare the commitment-phobic male. This blantant gender classification reflects ideas that should have been left behind in the 1950s, and it is ridiculous that we are still being fed them in the form of entertainment.
He’s Just Not That Into You is a great example, mostly because the classifications are almost laughably blatant. The story begins with Gigi (Gennifer Goodwin), who is obviously supposed to be the happy-go-lucky protaganist who never gives up on her quest for love. Instead, she is borderline psychotic and mistakes any gesture from a man as a sign of interest. Gigi alone is enough to undermine the whole film, depicting women as men obsessed and only able to gain fulfillment from finally bagging one, but she is just the tip of the iceberg.
Other female characters include Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and Janine (Jennifer Connelly), the former of who breaks off her perfectly healthy seven year relationship with Neil (Ben Affleck) because he doesn’t believe in marriage. Beth and Neil are the boiled down concept of the entire film – Beth, the female, is marriage obsessed, whilst Neil being against marriage reinforces the idea of men as anti-commitment. Things take a turn for the worse when Beth finally gets to marry Neil – of course, she has to ‘earn’ this right by giving up on the idea of marriage altogether. Heartwarming stuff.
Janine, on the other hand, is already married to Ben (Bradley Cooper) but the film makes sure to constantly tell you that that is only the case because she gave him an ultimatum. Seriously, at one point in the film Ben genuinely says the words “no man actually wants to get married.” Janine is portrayed as overly uptight, going on various intense rants about lying (this is no attack on Jennifer Connelly’s acting, which is actually very good, but more the general context of the film), and then even blaming herself when Ben cheats on her with yoga instructor Anna (Scarlett Johansson). Seriously – she says things like “I used to be fun” and “we never have sex”, in the process making Ben look like the victim.
Oh, Ben. Arguably the worst character in a film which includes the inherently annoying Gigi, Ben is made out to be the victim when he is in fact going through an early onset midlife crisis and stringing two women along, the epitome of the anti-commitment male.
Anna takes on the role of the niave, idealistic woman who gets involved with a married man, implying that women will let nothing stand in the way of their quest for love, whilst her friend Mary (Drew Barrymore) is the social media (Myspace, so 2009) obsessed girl with plenty of gay friends and no straight prospects.
Rounding out the male characters are Alex (Justin Long) the womanising bar owner who is won over by Gigi’s creepy antics by the end, and Conor (Kevin Connolly) Alex’s friendzoned roomate who is besotted with Anna. Alex fulfils the old stereotype of a man so hardered by years of meaningless flings that he doesn’t realise that true love is staring him right in the face. It could be argued that Conor is an example of the tables being turned, but it is more likely the script trying to be clever by making him the ‘exception’ to the ‘rule’ (an idea that broadcasted from the rooftops throughout the film).
The film provides an exceedingly poor representation of both men and women – at one point Beth says “there are no rules anymore”, made laughable by the fact that the narrative sticks so rigourously to age old “rules” regarding gender classification. It’s a shame that these ideas are still being reinforced in this day and age, and even more of a shame that He’s Just Not That Into You made $179 million against a $40 million budget – if we keep paying for it, Hollywood will keep making it.
What do you think of He’s Just Not That Into You? Let me know in the comments section!