Jesse Hassenger faces a crisis of American masculinity, sort of.
I’ve been seeing ads for He’s Just That Into You: The Movie for a bunch of months now, and there’s something that nags at me apart from the fact that it looks generic, sitcommy, and faintly dated (there is something epically sad about a joke that involves someone explaining MySpace to Drew Barrymore in 2009). The movie is an ensemble rom-com, so it necessitates casting a bunch of guys and a bunch of girls, and I’m repeatedly struck by the ridiculous imbalance between the all-star women and the men who look like they could collectively sign on to a TV pilot in, say, fall 2010.
Taken on its own, a romantic comedy featuring a higher-powered female lead isn’t so odd; these movies, for better or (usually much much) worse, are about the woman or women, on screen and in the audience. Of course, the best (or even the semi-proficient) romantic comedies have equally memorable leads, but there are plenty of popular entries where you couldn’t name the male lead off the top of your head.
He’s Just Not That Into You, though, seems to be specifically predicated on women flummoxed by uninterested, unavailable, or hard-to-read guys. The trailer soft-pedals this a little â€“ only a few of the men are made to look like real heels â€“ but it’s still the ladies getting all twitterpated over voicemails and, uh, MySpaces. In other words, if you’re making a movie about guys who just aren’t that into a bunch of girls, shouldn’t those guys be, you know, desirable?
Let’s take a closer look at the pumped-up lady cast:
Jennifer Aniston: Look, I never really got this, but apparently she’s America’s Sweetheart, plus she’s coming off one of the biggest hits of the holiday season.
Drew Barrymore: Maybe she’s a little past her prime, but Barrymore has starred in a ton of female-appeal hits; she’s arguably the most consistently popular member of this entire cast.
Jennifer Connelly: Two of my best friends in college, one male and one female, both considered Connelly one of the most absolutely beautiful women in the world. I might not go quite all the way there, but she’s certainly known for her amazing beauty. Also her ability to stand on docks mournfully.
Ginnifer Goodwin: She’s the least well-known of the bunch, but possibly the most adorable (though I’ll take the less skinny 2004 version any day). Even in supporting roles in the likes of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and Mona Lisa Smile, she’s shown natural sweetness, energy, and charm.
Scarlett Johannson: Many of us are a little nostalgic for Scarlett’s more sweater-y Ghost World days, but whatever, the sex-bomb version is pretty much universally acknowledged as smoking hot. Also, she’s sort of an underrated comic actress, by which I mean I liked Scoop even though no one else did, plus she was funny on several SNL appearances.
So basically: several big names, several extremely attractive women, and some overlap between the two. Whereas the men barely deserve their own bolded paragraphs.
First of all, the best one is Ben Affleck. I don’t have much hate for Ben Affleck; he does SNL a lot, he’s good in a bunch of Kevin Smith movies, and he directed Gone Baby Gone, which was excellent. Me and Affleck, we’ve put Daredevil and Pearl Harbor behind us. He’s a perfectly acceptable match to Jennifer Aniston, and even outclasses her a little because Affleck can, occasionally, be made to seem like an intelligent person, something Aniston struggles with constantly.
But Affleck is by far the movie’s biggest male “get” which would make a lot more sense if this were the year 2002. The movie also offers us, as a male equivalent to any number of actual stars, Bradley Cooper. For serious? You may remember him as the transparently assholish villain-beau to Rachel McAdams in The Wedding Crashers, or as the generic best friend in a bunch of other movies. If you haven’t seen him, just picture someone named “Bradley Cooper.” That is more or less exactly what he looks like. If you picture that guy’s bro-date to the T-Pain concert, you get Kevin Connolly. I had to look up who this guy is. Apparently he’s on Entourage. None of the women in this cast are on Entourage. Ginnifer Goodwin is on Big Love, which, like Entourage, I have never seen, but, unlike Entourage, doesn’t look or sound insufferable.
Justin Long is on hand too, presumably as the funny one, and again, OK, I can see him as fourth lead, but here is a partial list of dudes who have appeared in romantic comedies and are either funnier or better-looking than Justin Long, or both: Ben Stiller. Owen Wilson. Paul Rudd (so both!). Vince Vaughn (oh, how he could’ve rocked the “or both” in his heyday!). John Krasinski. I know Jason Bateman might’ve turned this movie down, but would it have killed them to really pursue Ryan Reynolds?
I don’t mean to get into superficialities here. Maybe the men and women of this movie are equally charming/appalling, or maybe I should take it as a sign of actress power that they don’t need more interesting male co-stars. But when you think how often decent female actors have played nothing more than the love interest, it’s telling how many of their male counterparts just aren’t that into doing the same.