On a drinks date in Baltimore, a perky 30-something woman named Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) thinks she's found the man of her dreams. He's attractive. He's funny. He's even employed. She's so smitten, she doesn't seem to notice that he's strangely distant. When the guy never calls her back, Gigi leaves him an awkward phone message that's about as painful as watching Bridget Jones croon "All By Myself" to herself. Still no response. Then Gigi does what any self-respecting girl would: she shows up at his favorite bar. He's not there, but the bartender, Alex (Justin Long), gives her some advice. They're perhaps the six most dreaded words in the romantic lexicon, and the name of this film: "He's Just Not That Into You." (Article continued below...)
Of all the semi-essential cultural contributions that owe their existence to "Sex and the City"—cosmos, cougars, Manolos—none has been more enduring than "He's just not that into you," which turned up on a 2002 episode. Two "Sex" writers, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, parlayed their catchphrase into a cheeky self-help book that's helped patch the broken hearts of more than 1.5 million single girls. Even Oprah did a segment on it. Naturally, Hollywood has gotten in on the action, with a new romantic comedy starring Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck. The appeal of the franchise is its cold-blooded simplicity: if a guy doesn't seem interested in you immediately when you meet him—if he doesn't call you, pursue you, sleep with you or slobber like a dog at your heels—then he's not worth your time. This was romantic advice for the Bush generation: a guy, like a foreign country, is either with you or against you. But we're in a new age, "the new era of responsibility," according to Obama, of hardship and hard work. Isn't it time we dumped "He's Just Not That Into You" like a lame date?
To be sure, breaking up will be hard. Though the '90s gave us "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," which taught women how to play relationship accountant, and "The Rules," which taught women how to play hard to get, you could argue neither of those books were as influential as "Not Into You." It's not just the sales figures that are impressive—it's the way, seven years after it was invented, that it still creeps into the conversations of 20-something single women. It even inspired the male equivalent—she's just not that into you—which the movie explores with Johannson's character. The "Not Into You" thesis is less about offering any insights into relationships, and more about embracing laziness. It takes advantage of this generation's collective impatience, and springboards off the easy living of the '90s (the Internet boom, rampant grade inflation, etc.). Technology has made it easier to meet new people (MySpace, FaceBook) but also to write them off, via text message. If the messages are too muddled, "Not Into You" has the easy fix: find somebody else. Because the options are limitless, nobody is really worth the trouble.
If there's anybody who can debunk "Not Into You," it's Barack Obama. Not just because he offers hope—something the self-help book never espouses—but because of the story of how he met his spouse. On the campaign trail, he'd often tell the story of his courtship with Michelle. They met at a Chicago law firm; he asked her out, she refused, over and over, until they eventually went on a first date (Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing"). The "Not Into You" backers cleverly say that stories like this are the exception, not the rule. But think about all the married couples you know—how many of them actually had a perfect romance from day one? Literature and cinema certainly give us prime examples that contradict "He's Just Not That Into You." Look at Shakespeare or Jane Austen, or even at "Sex and the City" itself. For six seasons, Carrie Bradshaw chased after Mr. Big, even though he was clearly not into her. One theatrical movie later, they're happily married like Cinderella and Prince Charming, complete with a glass Manolo.
All this might have been forgivable, perhaps, if the "Not Into You" movie was able to somehow keep the argument of the book intact. Instead, it opts for the happy ending, and the fact that it didn't stay true should qualify 1.5 million people for a refund. In one plot line, Aniston plays a woman struggling with her long-term live in boyfriend (Affleck) who refuses to marry her. She dumps him—exactly as the book would suggest—until she realizes how wrong her decision was. In another story, we follow Gigi as she embarks on a man-hating spree. She breaks it off with one potential suitor simply because he tells here he's going out of town. She acts crazier than Ophelia when another gives her his card instead of asking for her number. Gigi's one-dude Greek chorus is Alex the bartender, and as she rejects one guy after the next, she starts to fall in love with him. When she finally shares her feelings, he bolts. She weeps. And then there's a late-night knock on the door. If you've seen a single romantic comedy in the last decade, you know who's there. The real question is, why didn't they re-title the movie "He's Just Not That Into You ... Until He Is"?