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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Aside from a pretty impressive cast, there wasn't a whole lot about He's Just Not That Into You that inspired confidence in me. The movie is based on a best-selling self-help book, which was itself based on a catchphrase popularized by the TV show "Sex and the City." The point of the catchphrase and the book was that men don't always have some deep-seated reason for not investing in a relationship; sometimes they just plain aren't feeling it. Is there truth in that? Perhaps, but I've always felt like it was slightly more complicated than expressed in those six words. Not all men are shallow and aloof.

If the very thought of this movie made me roll my eyes ever-so-slightly, the end result is a rather nice surprise. Despite some definite tendencies toward the formulaic, He's Just Not That Into You actually has half a brain in its head. Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised that an A-list cast signed up for it after all.

Imagine Crash as a romantic comedy and you'll get the idea. We follow a bunch of young men and women as they try to navigate the confusion of modern dating. Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the prototypical "nice girl" who obsesses over the fact that men never call her for a second date. The latest to dust her off is Conor (Kevin Connolly), a real estate agent who yearns to have something more substantial with his "friend with benefits" Anna (Scarlett Johansson). She, however, has begun dating Ben (Bradley Cooper) whose marriage to wife Janine (Jennifer Connelly) has grown cold. Janine shares her woes with co-worker Beth (Jennifer Aniston), who's also having a marriage problem. Specifically, her longtime boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) won't pop the question.

Also circling the perimeter are Alex (Justin Long), a local bartender who offers Gigi the kind of blunt dating advice found in the picture's title, and Mary (Drew Barrymore), an ad saleswoman for a gay alternative weekly who can't read the mixed signals men send her.

Several things popped into my head as I watched He's Just Not That Into You. One is that, given the general hotness of the female cast, these male characters are apparently impossible to please. I don't say that out of snarkiness. There's a strong suggestion here that women are essentially taught to discount their own qualities. Each of the female characters is beautiful, smart, sensitive and, in her own way, successful. That they are not able to find the kind of romantic fulfillment they seek causes them to doubt themselves, or to think that something is "wrong" with them when clearly nothing is. This is the whole message behind the expression "he's just not that into you" - that women shouldn't hold themselves personally accountable for the fickle taste of some men. Nowhere is this better conveyed than in Gigi's subplot. As played nicely by Ginnifer Goodwin, any guy would be crazy not to want Gigi. She's cute, honest, and genuinely kind. However, her need to define herself by a man's attention causes her to become pre-occupied with whether a guy will call her back and, if so, when the phone will ring.

I think that's a pretty blunt, but honest, insight. There are others. In one of the best scenes, Mary observes that modern technology has made it significantly easier for daters to dump or ignore each another. The days of one answering machine that did or did not have a message are gone; now you can confuse someone you don't want to date anymore via cell phones and text messages and MySpace and the like.

He's Just Not That Into You contains quite a few sharp thoughts like that. Is there anything earth-shattering being revealed here? No, but it's definitely entertaining, especially given how good all the actors are. I particularly liked the performance from Jennifer Aniston, who conveys a lot of Beth's confusion without ever over-selling it. Jennifer Connelly is also terrific, especially as Janine risks being vulnerable to try to win her husband back from the other woman. Justin Long, meanwhile, gets plenty of laughs, as he usually does in the movies.

Since this is a feel-good rom-com, happy endings generally abound, and things turn out more or less as you expect they will. I sort of wish the film had the courage to not wrap everything up so conveniently, especially since the whole premise rotates on the idea that relationships sometimes fail to take off for indefinable reasons.

Then again, is it really so horrible to offer a little hope to the audience? I guess not. He's Just Not That Into You features a lot of good actors doing strong work, some clever things to say about modern love, and plenty of moments that are funny, sweet, or both. It definitely goes on the list of Movies That Were Better Than I Expected Them To Be.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

He's Just Not That Into You hits DVD and Blu-Ray on June 2, with fullscreen and widescreen versions on the same disc. (Blu-Ray is widescreen only.) A digital copy of the film is also included.

The DVD special features consist solely of five deleted scenes with optional audio commentary from director Ken Kwapis. Three of these scenes reveal a subplot between Anna and her mother (Theresa Russell) that was completely excised. Kwapis explains that he felt over-explaining Anna's inner motivations was ultimately "reductive" to the character; she's more compelling when you think she's messed up but don't know why. Johansson also performed two songs for the film, which are part of these deleted scenes. There's also an extended cut of Gigi's date with a guy Alex sets her up with, as well as an alternate version of a scene in which Mary and Conor meet.

The Blu-Ray will contain these deleted scenes as well as features on filming in Baltimore, the transformation from book to film, and how Kwapis staged a scene involving two characters talking on the phone.

He's Just Not That Into You is rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

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