Everyone comforts themselves during a crisis in a different way. Some people obsessively clean and organize the house. Some people cook elaborate pies and stews. Some people immerse themselves in the news because the only thing worse than knowing about all the scary coronavirus stuff? NOT knowing.
Me? I’m a movie girl, myself—and I’m particularly drawn to that sweet spot of films that are cheery, not too deep (but not flat-out stupid either), and are populated by beautiful people looking for love.
In other words, what I’m looking for is He’s Just Not That Into You, which the benevolent (and perhaps prescient) Netflix gods chose to release on March 1 and which—bonus!—takes place entirely in Baltimore.
In a way, I’m surprised that He’s Just Not That Into You, originally released in 2009, is not a bigger cult classic, along the lines of Love Actually, a film that it glancingly resembles. It’s a charming ensemble film, certainly not without its flaws (some of its sexual and gender politics feel very dated), but undeniably fun to watch. Plus, it features a veritable who’s who of famous actors, some who had already achieved peak fame (Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck) and some who were still on the rise, like Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson.
I wonder if the silly title—the film, if you don’t know, is based loosely on the popular self-help book of the same name—was a deterrent for people. The book basically lays out the cold, hard truth for women: When a guy likes you, he lets you know. He calls. He asks you out. He has sex with you. No need to do a CSI investigation of his every text message or phone call (or lack thereof). No need to make excuses for him (he’s busy…he’s shy…his feelings are actually too strong). He’ll make his intentions clear. And if he doesn’t? Say it with me: He’s just not that into you. (Dear readers, I regret to inform you that in this, the Year of Our Lord 2020, women are still falling into this same trap.)
The anthology-style movie version looks at a series of typical love and dating miscommunications. Our main heroine is Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), who is a case study in optimism and thinking the best of guys who are clearly blowing her off. One night, she heads to the bar to seek out Conor (Kevin Connolly), the real estate agent she had one great date with (alas, no follow up call), and instead falls into a conversation with Conor’s roommate, bar manager Alex (Justin Long).
Alex immediately recognizes Gigi for the kind of girl she is: a hopeless romantic who refuses to read the signs. As something of a jaded lothario himself, he’s seen it all too many times. He takes it upon himself to advise Gigi in the ways of the male psyche. (While delightful, Gigi is not the brightest bulb on the tree—she’s positively gobsmacked when it’s pointed out to her that men don’t always mean what they say). Alex’s job is to basically lay out the premise of the book—which would make him something of an insufferable mansplainer if Long weren’t so appealing.
It’s also rather ingenious of the film to make Alex a cynic who takes a thoroughly clinical approach to dating and love. Can you begin to guess what might happen between him and Gigi?
The other storylines are as follows: Aniston plays Beth, who’s in love with Neil (Affleck), who doesn’t believe in marriage. They have a happy domestic partnership. Does she really need that bling? Then there’s Ben (Cooper), who is contentedly married to his longtime sweetheart Janine (Jennifer Connelly), until he meets human temptation in the form of yoga instructor/singer Anna (Johansson). He resists—until he doesn’t.
Anna, meanwhile is being pursued by Conor—yes, that Conor—who doesn’t take the signs that she’s indifferent to his charms. (“You see? It works both ways!” the film seems to argue, although clearly this is more of a XX chromosome phenomenon.) Finally, there’s the woefully underused Drew Barrymore, as a woman who sells classified ads at the (made up) Baltimore Blade and who gets lots of “you go, girlfriend!” dating advice from her gay male cohorts (I told you the film’s sexual politics were whack.)
All in all, it was fun to watch all of these comely people have extreme social contact while I was practicing social distancing and contemplating not taking a shower for the third day in a row. And the best part of all? I didn’t think about the coronavirus ONCE when I was watching it.
But now for the important part: How does it rate on the Baltimore Movie Scale?
How Baltimore Is It?: Extremely Baltimore. They mention Baltimore several times. And it actually was filmed in Baltimore, mostly around the Canton and Brewers Hill neighborhoods, it would seem. This is not one of these cases where Baltimore is standing in for some other city (we’re looking at you, House of Cards)—we are loudly and proudly playing ourselves.
What They Got Right: Beth can see the Domino Sugar sign from her apartment. Ben is seen drinking Clipper City beer. Drew Barrymore shops in a CVS. At one point, we see the Brewers Hill/Mr. Boh sign. During Beth’s sister’s wedding, her father (Kris Kristofferson!) advises crab-eating guests that the “yellow stuff is not hot mustard. It’s the crab’s hepatopancreas.” Way to drop the knowledge, Beth’s dad.
What They Got Wrong: Beth, Janine, and Gigi work for a spice company (good!) named…New Colony Spice? Couldn’t they at least have gone with McConnor’s or something? Beth’s brothers-in-law watch Terps sports on TV (good!)—but they also watch hockey(?) and football, not basketball or lacrosse. The biggest problem, of course, is that, according to this film, Baltimore is largely packed with attractive, affluent, white people. Not one of the leads is black or Latino. It’s amazing films could get away with that crap as recently as 2009. Yeesh.