February 2019 marks the ten-year anniversary of the enormous ensemble rom-com, He’s Just Not That Into You, based on the book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo published in 2004. Both Greg and Liz, known for their hands in the epic telling of women’s empowerment of love, cocktails and shoes with Sex and the City, parlayed one line from one episode of the series into a book, and then into a movie based on the no-nonsense advice to women about navigating relationships and deciphering ‘menspeak’, especially when it comes to matters of dating and the heart.
The tale centres around our heroine, Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin of Once Upon a Time), shamelessly looking for love in blind dates and setups from her friends in the city of Baltimore. She initially has a perfectly pleasant blind date with Conor (Kevin Connolly of Entourage), who we see is not interested in her romantically but instead is taken with the voluptuous Anna (Scarlett Johansson of The Avengers fame). Gigi eventually takes a chance and visits the bar he mentions he frequents, only to be disappointed and meet Alex (Justin Long, most known for Apple commercials). Alex becomes her relationship guru, stating the obvious fact that if a guy doesn’t call after a date, he’s just not that into you!
A movie that enjoyed a number one box office opening weekend, raking in $27.8 million and grossing $178 million worldwide, it served as a welcome anthem for women who now had the missing piece to crack the code of why men don’t call after a date, or can’t pop the question or even remain faithful once they are in a relationship.
The flick boasts a ridiculous cast of who’s who of acting talent of the time. Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck, as the couple living together where she has been patiently waiting for the proposal that isn’t ever coming. Drew Barrymore as another hopeless single (she also executive produced the film under her own production company Flower Films) attempting to navigate the new landscape of social media dating. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Connelly as newlyweds building a life together in the form of renovating a house, with the underlying issue of an unhappy marriage due to the fact that Cooper’s character was given an ultimatum to propose and now resents her for it.
The movie nails home the point that there are not some great elusive reasons men do the things they do, instead it is always the simplest reason: they are just not interested, they are bored, they are just waiting for something better – the list goes on and on. However, women are conditioned all the way back from childhood, as we see in the opening scene, that the only true way women know a guy likes them is when he mistreats them.
Unfortunately for this movie, which did not evolve with the times, we as a society have. As someone who has probably seen this flick more than a dozen times over the last ten years, revisiting it wasn’t the pleasant experience one would expect. The characters end up being one-dimensional stereotypes that in today’s world are not entertaining or likeable. Gigi is your desperate to get married, falls in love with every guy she dates type. Alex is the aloof jerk who suddenly changes his mind about everything he stands for just in time for the end of the movie. Ben cheats on his wife with Anna, only to discover too late he wants to be with his wife. Anna sleeps with a married man, hoping all the time that he loves her and thinking he will leave his wife for her. Every time she feels badly about herself, she calls the ever available Conor, whom she has ‘friend-zoned’, but keeps around only when it’s convenient for her to see him. Then there is Beth, who has to watch all her sisters become engaged and married, but her live-in boyfriend, Neil, is anti-marriage and refuses to propose.
In one pivotal scene, Conor, frustrated by the dodgy Anna, receives advice from two gay men who state, ‘maybe she just wants you to be a man and do something.’ This narrative that women are supposed to sit back and just wait for the man to make known his interest, and any man with interest should be any girl’s dream, is a poor sign of the era. Thankfully both Hollywood storytelling and women’s movements have proven this mindset flawed and hurtful to both sexes.
Where He’s Just Not That Into You fails by today’s standards is instead of sticking to the ideals it purports, in the end it loses out to the typical Hollywood ending. The main theme of the movie told to Gigi by Alex is there are no exceptions, there are only rules. This movie breaks its wise advice, and instead makes the guy who is not interested, suddenly desperate and pining away; the man who can’t propose makes some grand gesture and proposes; and the cheater reforms and attempts to reconcile.
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Everything wraps up nicely by the end and you come away feeling happy for Gigi and Alex’s coupling, Conor and Mary looking blissfully in love, Beth and Neil’s wedded bliss, Anna singing in a nightclub and even the scorned Janine making peace with her failed marriage as an opportunity for a new start. However, the film’s message appears antiquated, outdated and just plain irritating.
If you watched He’s Just Not That Into You ten years ago as a hopeless romantic who bought into the classic forms of women are helpless and at the mercy of men when it comes to relationships, you might have given it five out of five stars. But if you’re rewatching it on its tenth anniversary, still as a romantic but not trapped into stereotypes and outdated philosophies, you might give it a considerably lower rating.