Plot Gigi narrates footage of playground play. Girls, she reasons, are bought up to believe that if boys act cruelly towards them, it means they like them. Scenes show women all over the world reassuring their friends that men like them, despite their neglect. Baltimore, the present. Gigi dates real-estate agent Conor. Afterwards he calls on-off girlfriend Anna, a yoga instructor, who is being chatted up by Ben, husband of Gigi’s workmate, Janine. Conor returns home to flatmate, Alex, a playboy bar owner. Beth, another of Gigi’s workmates, tells long-term boyfriend Neil that her sister is getting married and Neil replies by reiterating his negative views about marriage. Anna calls Ben, but he rejects her. Beth asks Neil if he will ever marry her, and his silence causes her to leave. Gigi goes to Alex’s bar looking for Conor; Alex gives her some no-nonsense advice – if he’s not calling you, he’s just not that into you. Beth’s father falls ill and Neil is supportive. Ben attends Anna’s yoga class. They begin an affair. When Gigi calls Alex for relationship advice, he invites her on a date with his friend, but turns up alone. When Gigi attends his party and kisses him, he rejects her. Ben tells Janine he has had an affair. Later, Anna and Ben are in his office when Janine arrives. Anna hides in the closet while Janine and Ben make love. Furious, Anna returns to Conor. Beth and Neil reunite. Janine – whose father died of lung cancer – discovers that Ben has been lying about his smoking, and they split up. When Conor becomes serious about their relationship, Anna leaves him. Alex pursues Gigi and declares his affections, they kiss. Neil and Beth marry.
Film Note February 2009 saw the release of He’s Just Not That Into You, a film born of an idea conceived by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo during their time writing for HBO comedy drama series, Sex and the City (1998-2004). The film follows the tangled love lives of nine Baltimore residents as they struggle through fledgling relationships and begin to discover that they don’t have to settle for a person that isn’t right for them.
Self help The idea behind He’s Just Not That Into You stemmed from a discussion in the writers’ room whilst devising Season Six of Sex and the City. One of the female writers asked Behrendt, the only heterosexual male on the writing team, for advice about a man she was dating. Concluding that the woman was being mistreated by her partner, Behrendt uttered the now infamous words: “he’s just not that into you”. The idea, radical in its notion that it is better to be single than to be in an unfulfilling relationship, proved so revolutionary for the writers that it found its way into an episode of the series entitled Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little (2003). In this, occasional character Jack Berger tells one of the show’s protagonists, Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Ellen Nixon), that the man she sees as a potential love interest is not that into her because he didn’t contact her after their date. She appreciates his honesty and is compelled to communicate this newly acquired knowledge to other women, but it is badly received. Among audiences however, this was not the case. The extensive discussions on forums indicated widespread interest in the idea and, as a result, in 2004 it was turned into a book entitled He’s Just Not That Into You that quickly went to number one on The New York Times bestseller list. The book exploited the connection with Sex and the City, stating in its synopsis that it is “based on a popular episode” of the series (Smith 61). When the film was made, it did the same – reviews commented little on the book, choosing instead to exploit the connection with the series. It is no wonder that this was the case as, during its run, the show “repeatedly trounced the network competition” and had “viewers hooked across the globe” (Akass and McCabe 6). By tapping into the phenomenal success of Sex and the City the opportunity for the film to achieve crossover success was guaranteed.
Beyond marketing ploys, the form of the film is also reminiscent of Sex and the City, particularly through the voiceover narration that echoes lead protagonist Carrie Bradshaw’s omnipresent narration. As well as this, the scenes spoken directly to camera mirror a technique used by the show in Seasons One and Two. By using these techniques, He’s Just Not That Into You engages with a form that fans of Sex and the City will recognise and the film becomes almost an extension of the series – perhaps even more so than its own film spin-off, Sex and the City: The Movie (2008).
Though the film utilises its connection to the series through form, the narrative engages more fully with the book. The montage scene at the beginning of the film, in which various women come up with excuses as to why their potential partner hasn’t called, links directly to the book. In both film and book, Behrendt and Tuccillo set out an extensive amount of excuses and reply to them with much the same response each time: “he’s just not that into you”. A series of intertitles, such as “if he’s not calling you…”, also punctuate the film and reflect the book’s chapter titles. The characters can also be found within the book, most notably Alex the barman (Long). Like Jack Berger in Sex and the City, he is arguably an incarnation of Behrendt, doing his duty to the women of the world by imparting his cynical view of relationships. The women within the film are also lifted from the book – for example Beth (Jennifer Aniston) is a version of a woman named Danielle who writes to Behrendt because her long-term partner won’t marry her.
The book can be thought of as part of the self-help genre which is in turn part of a huge industry that, in 2005, was worth $9.6bn domestically. The industry of self-help books alone was worth $693m in the year of the film’s release. The book is quite obviously marketed at women and taps into the fact that women turn to self-help guides more often than men. Such is made clear by the plethora of titles in the genre that are clearly directed at women, such as Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamboat (2002) and All the Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (2007). The tagline of the book version of He Not That Into You is “the no-excuses truth to understanding guys” and, despite its creation being within the realms of fiction, it is marketed as non-fiction. The book ultimately argues against the excuses made for a man who is simply “not that into” a woman and states that “men are not complicated” (Behrendt and Tuccillo 5). It attempts to remind and reassure women of their beauty, intelligence and strength, and by commenting on the need many women have to find love, the book and the film act as “pop(corn) psychology” (Smith 61). The book aims to encourage the reader to believe in the fairy-tale of romance, which suggests why it, in some respects, made the easy transition into a romantic comedy film. However, for a book that at times suggests women are better off alone than in an imperfect relationship, the translation into a genre that typically celebrates heterosexual union was not without tension.
New romance When considering He’s Just Not That Into You as part of the romantic comedy genre, it is most beneficial to consider it in terms of the evolution of the genre, particularly across the 1980s and 90s. Peter Evans and Celestino Deleyto suggest that the genre is subject to several shifts beginning in the late 1970s with a cycle of “nervous romances” that “betray an intense longing for the restitution of faith in the stability of the heterosexual couple as some kind of bulwark against the modern world” (Krutnik in Evans and Deleyto 2). Krutnik argues that this begins with Annie Hall (1977) and continues through to the late 1980s. Despite the term’s extended history, it is possible to see elements of this tendency in He’s Just Not That Into You as the film depicts two troubled long term relationships. Firstly, Ben’s (Cooper) marriage to Janine (Connelly) crumbles when he has an affair with Anna (Johannson), resulting in divorce. Ultimately, Janine realises she is better off alone which means her relationship is a failure. Secondly, Beth’s relationship with Neil (Affleck) is tested when he refuses to marry her. Had this narrative thread remained true to the book, where Behrendt tells the aforementioned Danielle that she should leave her partner and find someone who will marry her, this would have embodied the ‘nervous romance’. Neil states that he won’t marry Beth because he does not believe in marriage, thus questioning a pillar of heterosexual union. Nevertheless, despite a convincing argument not to marry, they ultimately do. This shows the film as symptomatic of the “new romance”, and thus inscribes it into the shifting landscape of the new romantic comedy (Neale in Evans and Deleyto 2).
The trend of the ‘new romance’ began in the late 1980s and represented a “frank return to the old fashioned values of traditional heterosexual romance” (Evans and Deleyto 2), embodied in popular films of the time such as Dirty Dancing (1987), Ghost (1990) and Pretty Woman (1990). These films are populist and escapist and “for all the tensions and aggressiveness [the films] stick firmly to the traditional happy ending in which marriage is still perceived as the best option” (Evans and Deleyto 6). Many of these ‘new romances’ can be categorised as showing the ‘coming of age’ of their female characters who are sassy and realise their independence, such as Baby in Dirty Dancing who breaks free from her parents. Gigi (Goodwin) in He’s Just Not That Into You arguably does the same once she acknowledges the truth about dating. However, as Gigi does with Alex, all of these women ultimately move from being reliant on one patriarchal figure to being reliant on another. Once it seems as though she has finally grasped that she is not the exception to the rule, Alex, in true romantic comedy fashion, races to find heterosexual union in the closing moments of the film. By rushing to tell her that she is his exception, however, he effectively denies the film’s central idea. It seems that, despite its questioning of marital norms, He’s Just Not That Into You is a ‘new romance’. Because of this, the idea loses the (radical) potency it displayed on appearance in Sex and the City and in book form.
Cash break zero and the ensemble cast An important element of the film is the ensemble cast, especially a high number of established, well-known stars. The film had a reported budget of $40m which, for a star-led film, is rather small (with similarly star-led films Mamma Mia! (2008) and It’s Complicated (2009) reporting respective budgets of $52m and $82m). Though it is unclear as to exactly how much each of the film’s stars can command, it can be assumed that several of them can demand a high salary as a result of appearing in commercially successful films. For example, across the past seven years, Aniston’s films have grossed an average of nearly $80m and Affleck’s have grossed an average of nearly $50m, with Aniston coming second in a Forbes list of highest paid actresses in 2009 (Pomerantz). It is possible that Drew Barrymore, the film’s producer, had some influence on encouraging the stars to sign up for a reduced fee, but it is perhaps more likely that He’s Just Not That Into You is one of many films in the past two years that has paid a smaller outright fee to its stars while offering them a cut of the profits. Michael Cieply notes that: “the fashionable deal now is called ‘CB zero’. It stands for ‘cash-break zero’, and refers to an arrangement under which the star or filmmaker begins collecting a share of profits after the studio has reached the break-even point” (Cieply). If this was the case, this may have proved more fruitful than a standard outright payment as the film grossed $90m domestically, more than doubling its budget. This management of funds is an illustration of how and why He’s Just Not That Into You can showcase mainstream stars on a modest budget, highlighting the film’s commitment towards the consolidation of Hollywood and the independents. Furthermore, according to Michael Cieply, “stars don’t resonate with the ‘what’s next’ crowd […]. They attract an over-30 audience, which is going to the movies less in an impaired economy” (Cieply). It can be argued that the film uses stars in order to target these older viewers, as it is this group that make up a large number of the Sex and the City audience. Aniston and Barrymore also hold appeal for older audiences due to their roles in 1990s films and television series such as The Wedding Singer (1998) and Friends (1994-2004). The economic downturn has meant that this group no longer have as much disposable income for non-essential leisure activities, of which going to the cinema is one. However, through clever casting of particular stars He’s Not That Into You was able to draw an audience.
While the film’s ways of organising actor payment may be new, the idea of the ensemble cast that it showcases is not. One of the first films to use a large cast in a similar way was Nashville (1975) and it has grown in popularity since the 1990s. It can be categorised in two ways, ensemble casts and ensemble star casts. In the last ten years, ensemble casts have most commonly been seen in high school teen comedies such as American Pie (1999) and horror spoofs such as Scary Movie (2000). More recently, director and producer Judd Apatow has chosen to use ensemble casts in several of his films, including Superbad (2007). Ensemble star casts, however, though less common, have tended to appear within the romantic comedy genre. However, this has mostly been outside of Hollywood in films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Love Actually (2003), both generally classified as British. The most obvious reason for this is cost. Though these films can be considered star-led ensembles, this is by British standards – aside from Hugh Grant and possibly Keira Knightly, the British stars that appear were at the time known mostly for their work in television and were not (well) known in America. As such, their participation would not have cost as much as their Hollywood counterparts. However, perhaps following the lead of He’s Just Not That Into You, 2010 saw the release of Valentine’s Day (2010), an ensemble star film with even bigger names and a substantially bigger budget of $52m. Like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day more than doubled its budget in domestic gross takings, having made $110m by the end of its run. Perhaps taking into consideration the lack of star pull that Cieply refers to, the makers of Valentine’s Day showcased a plethora of stars to entice audiences of all ages, which, according to the gross, was a success. As already noted, Cieply suggests that star-led films are typically enticing to the thirty plus audience, but Valentine’s Day seeks to entice the youth market by casting Twilight (2008) heart-throb Taylor Lautner and teen idol Taylor Swift. The quick succession of He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, and the success of the two, offers a formula for the star-led ensemble romantic comedy, leading to a continuing cycle, including Grown Ups (2010) and What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012).
Flower Films He’s Just Not That Into You is produced by Flower Films, a production company owned by actress Drew Barrymore and her business partner Nancy Juvonen. This is the tenth film to be produced by Barrymore to date and was released in the same year as her directorial debut Whip It (2009). Barrymore stars in the film, as she does in all of the films she has produced. The move by the majors into producing more niche films, a position previously held by the independents, has tempted indie companies such as Flower Films “to go for bigger budgets [and] more mainstream topics” (Roddick), thus leaving the old view of independent films outdated. The film is presented by New Line Cinema, a company which incidentally presented both Sex and the City: The Movie and Valentine’s Day. New Line is a subsidiary of Time Warner, a company which also controls the American cable network HBO, which in turn made and broadcast all six seasons of Sex and the City. The fact that Time Warner operates both companies means that it is easy to exploit the connection between them for marketing purposes, a vital component in the film’s success. The film brings together both big players in the entertainment industry and smaller contributors, again highlighting tension between mainstream and independent filmmaking within one project.
These tensions also translate to the film’s politics. He’s Just Not That Into You negotiates left- and right-wing politics both within the narrative and with regard to the production companies. Drew Barrymore is a Democrat who campaigned during the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections. She has spoken in interviews about encouraging young people into politics (Silverman) and even made a documentary about how best to do this entitled Choose or Lose Presents: The Best Place to Start (2004). Time Warner, however, is arguably a right-wing company as it donated the maximum amount of $250,000 to President Bush’s 2005 reelection campaign. With two opposing agendas at the heart of production, it is not surprising that He’s Just Not That Into You seeks to live with contradiction. In terms of the characters, the vast majority have typically left-wing careers, such as Anna, who is a singer, Mary (Barrymore), who works in the media and Beth, Janine and Gigi, who work for an advertising company. In this sense, the characters’ politics could be said to be left-leaning. And, the initial message behind the film’s title and the message that the book communicates is that it is better to be single than to be in a relationship with the wrong person. However, although he occasionally alludes to it, Behrendt never once seriously advocates that a woman should remain single. He advises that if their partner is just not that into them, women should “move their romantic inclinations onto a more suitable future husband” (Behrendt and Tuccillo 14) and “go meet someone more worthy of [their] affections” (Behrendt and Tuccillo 50). Singledom, then, is a passing phase rather than a lifestyle choice. As such, the book and film’s commitment to heterosexual relationships within a patriarchal society is more attuned to right-wing thinking. What is evident here is that the politics within and outside of He’s Just Not That Into You are contradictory and that the individual politics of the film’s producers and parent companies cannot solely categorise the film. Considering this in conjunction with the film’s alternative practices in relation to budget and actor payment, as well as its fluctuating approach to romantic comedy norms and the utilisation of the star cast, it becomes apparent that He’s Just Not That Into You often employs opposing notions in order to create a nuanced and diverse film. In an industry in which often pits the big-budget against the independent and the conventional against the alternative, this film attempts a balance of conflicting ideals.
Akass, Kim and Janet McCabe. “Introduction: Welcome to the age of un-innocence”. Reading Sex and the City. Ed. Kim Akass and Janet McCabe. New York and London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2008. 1-14. Print.
Behrendt, Greg and Liz Tucillo. He’s Just Not That Into You. London: Harper Collins, 2009. Print
Cieply, Michael. (2010) “For Movie Stars, the Big Money is Now Deferred”. The New York Times, 3 Mar. 2010. Web. 5 April 2010.
Evans, Peter William and Celestino Deleyto (1998) “Introduction: Surviving Love”. Terms of Endearment: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1980s and 1990s. Ed. Peter William Evans and Celestino Deleyto Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. 1-14. Print.
Pomerantz, Dorothy. “Hollywood’s Top Earning Actresses”. Forbes, 7 Jan. 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2014
Roddick, Neil. “End of the World: Part Two”. Sight and Sound 20:4 (2010): 15. Print.
Silverman, Stephen M. “Barrymore Hits the Presidential Trail”. People, 27 Jan. 2004. Web. 27 April 2010.
Smith, Anna. “Review: He’s Just Not That Into You”. Sight and Sound 19:4 (2009): 61. Print.
Written by Holly Williamson (2009); edited by Darcy Giles (2014), Queen Mary, University of London
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Copyright © Holly Williamson/Mapping Contemporary Cinema
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