"He's Just Not That Into You," the straight-talk bestseller that decoded the mixed messages and self-deception of love affairs, has inspired a date movie of epic proportions. The film boasts the biggest romcom ensemble this side of "Love, Actually," stumbling into snares of miscommunication and pitfalls of wishful thinking.
What makes this one a cut above the generic is a tart dose of drama and hard-bitten intelligence amid the candy corn. The film doesn't peddle the fantasy that a happy ending is the inevitable climax of every meet-cute. For all its breezy humor, it recognizes that love is ephemeral and elusive.
The film follows a flurry of romantic entanglements among a group of Baltimore professionals whose lives carom against one another busily. The story is set in motion with a blind date between idealistic Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Conor (Kevin Connolly), who leaves her with vague assurances that they'll reconnect soon. Before they've walked a block, she's on her cell phone raving to a gal pal about him, and he's on his, calling Anna (Scarlett Johansson), a casual hook-up who keeps stringing him along.
Anna no sooner rings off than she's exchanging numbers with Ben (Bradley Cooper), the handsome married guy behind her in the supermarket checkout line. Ben introduces us to Neil (Ben Affleck), whose seven-year commitment to Beth (Jennifer Aniston) is fraying from his aversion to marriage. So it goes as more friends and co-workers are drawn in.
The film's comic standout is Justin Long as Alex, a swaggering bar manager who takes the vulnerable Gigi under his wing to explain what it means when a guy doesn't call. "Maybe he lost my number, or was out of town, or was hit by a cab, or his grandma died," she offers, and Alex bluntly replies, "Maybe he just didn't call because he has no interest in seeing you again." His tutoring helps Gigi evolve from a puddle of self-doubt and confusion, and her emotional honesty puts him in touch with feelings he'd forgotten he had. Jennifer Connolly delivers a textured performance as a woman discovering that her ideal marriage is not as secure as she believed.
In clumsier hands, this would be an exercise in tearjerking and silly humor. Director Ken Kwapis combines the competing subplots like a smooth medley, helped by a screenplay that avoids lazy characterization. Writers Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein ("Never Been Kissed") don't flatter their target market by making the female characters flawless princesses and all the men toads.
Even the look of the film is nuanced. It's beautifully shot and lit, but it frequently paints the actors in shadows. Despite a couple of implausible eleventh-hour character reversals, "He's Just Not That Into You" is a welcome paradox, a movie that's satisfying precisely because it doesn't strain to satisfy us with easy answers and prefabricated happy endings.