The Skank’s Progress: What’s Your Number?

by |
09/29/2011 11:00 PM |

What’s Your Number
Directed by Mark Mylod

Tad Friend’s instant-classic New Yorker profile of Anna Faris, from this spring, offered some early glimpses into the competing impulses vying for control over the then-in-production What’s Your Number: star Faris’s raunch-comic chops, romantic-comedy convention and the presumed tastes of a female audience, and Hollywood’s extreme caution in depictions of female sexuality. But even with that lead-in, there remains much to parse in the final product—rather too much, actually, for, despite Faris’s typically hilarious scrunchy-faced panic routine, What’s Your Number is a mess of contradictory, poorly executed appeasement strategies.

Faris plays Ally Darling, dumped and fired in the opening scenes—contrast with her put-together younger sister (Faris-in-training Ari Graynor, game for more ditzy slapstick than she gets here), soon to be married, as were the perfect younger sisters of the rudderless heroines of When in Rome and No Strings Attached. So she’s in a position to take somewhat too seriously a lady-magazine article informing her that her 19 lifetime sex partners is awfully high—a sensible-sounding friend, surely reading directly from some worried studio executive’s notes, affirms that loose women really do have self-esteem too low for true love.

After downing bachelorette-party shots (“To better decision-making!”), Allie’s real scared-straight experience comes as she awakens next to assignation #20, her ex-boss (Joel McHale, doing the conventionally handsome comic’s usual smug-guy routine; the reveal is expected, but the execution—beginning with a sleepy, suit-jacketed hand cupping her boob—is original). So, convincing herself that she’s kissed enough frogs to have found a prince by now, she forswears further attachments, and begins tracking down exes, with the help of Colin, her ladies-man neighbor from across the hall (Chris Evans). (To explain the contrivance of their alliance, there are jokes about Allie’s unfamiliarity with social media, and her terrible, terrible Google skills.)

Playing a charismatic douchebag with a drawer full of cargo shorts and the metabolism of a 15-year-old, Evans performs with expansive relish—his head moves, emphatically, when he talks, like a really likeable performer in a high school play, which eagerness becomes appropriate as Colin gradually becomes an almost pornographic fantasy of romantic availability. He shows off his male-stripper physique as he and Allie play underwear basketball and skinny-dip (why both? The movie feels interminable at an hour forty-five) on a friend date as series of escalating dares; he sings to her, his voice flirty but ever so soft; he mopes abjectly on the roof of the building in hyperbolic crane shots. He’s the usual head-smackingly perfect sensitive-hunk-in-plain-sight of recent romantic comedies, but the “obstacle” standing between Colin and Allie is at least intriguing and credible in this case. Colin has a different girl doing the walk of shame out of his apartment every morning, and Allie doesn’t take him seriously: she even man-slut-shames him at one point, suggesting that maybe screenwriters Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden actually mean to use the number conceit to posit the sexual woman’s culturally conditioned self-loathing as the real obstacle to her happiness.

In fact, What’s Your Number‘s structure can be read as a response to the recent casual sex rom-coms—Love and Other Drugs, No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits—all of which flaunt in the narcissistic bedroom exertions of the young an unattached within the safety of a conservative foundation, secure in the knowledge that all this fornicating will eventually be redeemed by real commitment. Allie’s journey into the depth of her romantic past implies a similar contract, but it turns out all the guys are false starts, all played by comics with experience getting across a dealbreak in the length of a sketch. (Andy Samberg has a hand puppet, Tom Lennon is a gynecologist who’s too good at his job—better than any of them is Anthony Mackie, as a polished young politico, who makes up for his telegraphed one-joke character with coiled athletic brio and is surely the most dynamic actor in movies right now.)

Faris herself gets a few choice bits, amid the insufferable music montages and forced girl talk: she gets to play drunk repeatedly, nailing the hoarse, congested voice of the attention-desperate declamatory drunk; she gets to try on a rapidly deteriorating English accent; she’s so good at pulling rubber-faced reaction shots to her own thoughts. But she also has to run away from a wedding in heels during the movie’s big finish—when the movie’s sadly inevitable walkback comes, any attempts at genre deconstruction are mired in director Mark Mylod’s soggy, smarmy pacing. The final wedding, with its gorgeous extras in summer tuxes, cranes over the ceremony and dance floor, and frequent cutaways, during the self-revealing toasts, to the groom kissing the bride’s shoulder; the bride and groom write their own wedding vows and Allan and Crittenden are spot-on with the mix of cutesy inside jokes and couples-therapy affirmations that make up so many DIY wedding vows today (“I promise not to blow my nose in the shower”; “I promise not to be mad at you for everything when I’m really only mad at you for one thing”). It’s perfect, except that it’s not actually satire, just more sentiment—not with the fervent expressions on the couple’s face, or the sun-dappled close-ups of Faris smiling upon their happiness—and so goes What’s Your Number.

Opens September 30