Racialicious at the Movies: He’s Just Not That Into You

by Latoya Peterson

You know, dear readers, I am sometimes entirely too curious for my own good.

But I’m going to blame Joseph for this latest bout of killing the cat, since it was his comment (#58) on the original HJNTIY thread that led me to the Friday matinee show.

Before I jump into my impressions of the movie, let me add a little background information. We often receive comments on Racialicious about how sometimes people just want to escape, or that movies are made for “intellectuals,” or that we critique everything and never like anything, or that we are busy judging things we haven’t seen or don’t watch or whatever.

These comments are generally incorrect. In the case of He’s Just Not That Into You :

  • I remember where this all started, as I watched Seasons 1 – 4 of Sex and the City, and sporadically finished out the rest of the series. (I enjoyed the series, glaring race and class issues aside – I just tend to lose patience with most shows after a few seasons.)
  • Not only do I remember the episode that spawned the book, I actually read He’s Just Not That Into You. The book wasn’t very memorable, but it is infinitely better than It’s Called A Break Up Because It’s Broken which made me want to gouge out my eyes with the spoon I was supposed to use to eat my break-up mandated pint of Chunky Monkey. (No, that’s in the book. The cover shot is an empty pint of ice cream.) Instead of reading that, I recommend Cindy Chupack’s Between Boyfriends. She also wrote for Sex and the City and while the book isn’t self-help, it’s probably more helpful than that mess.
  • I really enjoy escapist romantic comedies. Seriously. I deal with race, gender, class and activism all freaking day – what do you think I go home and do? All I ever want is a glass of wine and something funny. That’s all. However, I would prefer that comedy doesn’t actively insult my intelligence. (In another post, somewhere in the future, I’ll talk about one of my favorite romcoms – That’s The Way I Like It – and why it works using the romcom formula without becoming formulaic.)

So, I went to the movie cautious. While I hated the trailers, the alternate trailer (marketed to guys, natch) made the movie seem more interesting than I had anticipated. So after lunch, I suckered my boyfriend into going with me.

*WARNING: SPOLIERS AHEAD*

I settle into the theater and start watching the movie. After about fifteen minutes, I figure out that I am going to be bored and start taking notes on my cell phone.

The opening montage falls into stereotypes quickly. After the scene shown in the trailer with the little girl being pushed by the little boy on the playground, the film hops around the globe to show how women have internalized these fucked up notions of dating and romance. I quickly figured out who Tokyo Girl #1 and #2 are – they talked about men not having the emotional maturity to understand relationships, in S Cawaii/Fruits style outfits. (These two women and the guy at the fictional Baltimore Blade are the only Asians in the film with speaking lines.) African Women 1, 2, and 3 also made an appearance. They sat around in the dust, explaining that a guy hadn’t called because “he forgot your hut number” or “got eaten by a lion.”

While the film zips back to Baltimore to identify the real characters, I found myself starting to hate them all within their first few minutes on screen. Gigi (Gennifer Goodwin) would be a great Manic Pixie Dream Girl if this was a movie about a man. But since the movie revolves around her, we get to see what happens when the sparkly sidekick shimmer wears off – MPDGs just ooze desperation. I was embarrassed for her character who seemed to have read every women’s magazine on the shelf and accepted it as the gospel.

We first meet Gigi being completely overeager on a so-so date with Connor (Kevin Connolly) who leaves the date and immediately calls Anna (Scarlett Johansson) who is stringing him along, but she rushes off the phone to talk to Ben (Bradley Cooper) who is standing in the checkout line and making goo-goo eyes at her even though he’s married to Janine (Jennifer Connolly) who works with both Gigi and Beth (Jennifer Aniston). Beth is dating Neil (Ben Affleck) but hasn’t been able to walk down the aisle in seven years so she’s frustrated. You also meet Alex (Justin Long) who is a wise cracking bartender/bar owner who catches Gigi stalking Connor and Mary (Drew Barrymore), ad sales exec for the Baltimore Blade who is a friend of Anna’s. Got all that?

The movie is full of subplots, but there was one major reoccurring theme that didn’t get any billing at all: the benefits of the gentrification of Baltimore. My feelings on gentrification vs. revitalization are clear. And this movie was like an pro-gentry advertisement from the city of Baltimore. Here’s one example – Connor is a real estate agent, and there is a small subplot throughout the film where he tries to attract more gay clients for his real estate business and advertises in the Blade for “homes for your lifestyle.” Near the end of the film, Connor and Anna are walking through a quaint little neighborhood, that Connor helpfully notes is a neighborhood “in transition.” Eventually it will be a great place to live – wonder how that’s going to happen?

Minorities are literally background color – people who move through the white circles of the leads, but rarely stick. (The exceptions are Mary’s coworkers at the fictional Blade, played by Wilson Cruz and Leonardo Nam. I’ll refer everyone to Queerty’s take on those two.) When you see blacks, it’s Frangela (more on that in a bit), the black waiter serving Gigi and Connor’s table, or the black waiter who works at Alex’s bar. When you see Latin@s in the movie, they are in the Army, or working on the homes of wealthy whites who are renovating. At one point, Ben tries to blame all the “undocumented workers” currently re-doing their home for some cigarettes Janine found. Janine also speaks dismissively to Javier, the head contractor on their home, before she has a breakdown about her husband’s deception. (Javier, to his character’s credit, shows his mastery of the English language by pointing out that the question/statement Janine posed didn’t have the proper inflection to be a question, and noted her excessive use of prepositions.) Asian Americans I covered above, and everyone else may have been mixed into the panning background shots.

There was one potential interracial hook up – Alex is making out with “Hot Girl” (Annie Ilonzeh) who appears to be biracial or multiracial. Unfortunately, Gigi calls and Alex postpones the makeout session to help her out. You never see “Hot Girl” again.

While watching the movie, I also kept thinking about how I’ve seen and heard most of these tropes before…just done better in another movie. Ben is cheating on Janine with Anna. At one point, Janine heads to Ben’s office to try to win her marriage back by fucking him stupid. What she doesn’t know is that Ben was about to have sex with Anna, and pushed her into the closet when Janine knocked on the door. In a strange turn of events, Anna ends up listening to Ben and Janine have sex while she is trapped in the closet. Now, if this had been a movie from the 30s or 40s, a woman who was so brazen as to deliberately take another woman’s man would have at least made her presence known, either by directly challenging the woman or making a tearful exit scene. I kept waiting for Anna to come out of the closet in her little red dress and do something! But no – she waits patiently until they finish having sex before tearfully flying out of the closet and telling Ben to leave her alone.

The big breakup between Janine and Ben was also a rehash. After Janine discovers his hidden stash of cigarettes (no, she never finds out about the closet thing) she flies into a rage and starts throwing his stuff down the stairs of the newly renovated loft. Now, when things were being thrown down the stairs in Waiting to Exhale we all remember what happened next – bonfire! But no, Janine folds all his clothes neatly along the stairs, and writes him a nice little note saying she wants a divorce. No orange throwing. Nothing.

The movie is also laced with monologues on love, life, adultery, and the good old days of phone stalking before caller ID…only not as good as the warm, slightly awkward reflections on love featured in When Harry Met Sally. One of these monologues belongs to Frangela.

After watching the whole take, I’ll have to admit that Joe was right. Frangela’s segment felt like a part of their stand up comedy routine. An amusing rift on how men like to sneak out of relationships by employing jedi mind tricks, if I had been skimming channels and caught this on Comedy Central, I would have stopped to watch. The promo only includes the final line, which commenter Nancy explained is “Rhebbs” and some ice cream. According to Nancy, “Rhebbs is a famous Baltimore chocolate company.” After watching the whole thing, I agree partially with Joe – Frangela was just doing their act. And the act is funny. But in the context of the movie, I winced. It is exactly as commenter Devin noted – “It’s almost as if the editors thought they needed a big ol’ black moment to liven things up!” Sigh.

The movie continues on to its predictable end. It turns out the guys lied in their preview of the film, there are cheesy confessions of love at the end of the movie, as well as a meet cute moment. Dodai captured my feelings in her live blog of the film:

Ed Note: Can this movie end already? I’m sick of typing.

5:32: Justin Long has visited Ginnifer. He can’t stop thinking about her.

“When I was hurling my body onto yours, you did not seem to want to be with me,” she counters.

5:34: He says something about how he spent so much time being the one in control he forgot how it felt to fall for someone.

5:35: They kiss. Duh.

5:36: It seems absolutely UNBELIEVABLE that this movie is not over. But no. Drew Barrymore and Kevin Connolly are meeting cute at a sidewalk cafe.

AND, BECAUSE HOLLYWOOD IS FULL OF SPINELESS JELLYFISH

Affleck just proposed to Aniston.

5:37: I just heard sixty women go “awwwww”.

5:38: Except the narrator goes “maybe a happy ending doesn’t include a guy.”

5:40: Okay it’s over.

Affleck & Aniston got married on the sailboat. Of course.

Side note: They do the whole nod to the single woman by noting “maybe a happy ending doesn’t include a guy” and then directly undercut it by pushing the happy couples and the new wedding. Who knows, maybe they are trying to set Janine up for a sequel in It’s Called a Break Up Because It’s Broken.

In sum, I was barely amused and kept laughing at all the wrong parts. (Like the numerous breakdowns all the main women characters had. They dissolved into tears at the slightest provocation. I was almost glad there weren’t any lead minorities if this is how it was going to go down.).

The main message of the movie is that all women are desperate losers who need men to function, unless the guy is a cheater, in which case you dump him and seem vaguely happy to be alone and following your dreams. Kind of.

If you must go see this movie, I recommend you take at least the following:

* A flask filled with the alcohol of your choice (juice if you’re under 21 kids!)
* That one friend who cries into her mixed house drinks once a month about the same freaking man problem you’ve been dealing with since you were both sixteen. She will probably relate to the film and peg herself as a character.
* A guy you’re angry at and want to punish.
* A cell phone with good reception so you can text your snarky comments to your friends who had enough sense to stay away from this movie.

Personally, I won’t make the same mistake twice. When I take a quick break from Katsucon, I’ll be watching The Shopaholic. I’m going with Megan from Jezebel, we’re live blogging it, and she’s in charge of the liquor.