He’s Just Not That Into You And The Incidental Female Friend

Dear CF,

So glad to have you back, and just plain relieved to get your take on films du jour. I’ve almost stopped going to the movies (partly poverty, partly inertia) so I’m hopelessly behind. To give you a sense of where I stand re: our cultural capital: I haven’t seen Inception yet, but last night I finally got around to seeing He’s Just Not That Into You.

Re: the sad-sack zeitgeist of which Scott Pilgrim seems to be yet another instance, I wondered, watching HJNTIY yesterday, whether it was doing something with the female equivalent.

He’s Just Not That Into You tries pretty hard to be our generation’s When Harry Met Sally. It wants to articulate the sexual mores of our age—Drew Barrymore’s monologues are straight-up exposition on what the internet hath wrought, and though much of the movie leaves me agape, some of Barrymore’s stuff is actually entertaining. If back in Rob Reiner’s day the guiding question was whether or not men and women could be friends, now the question is whether men and women can rise above the pervasive insincerity of the flirtation—a basic dishonesty that infects every relationship, every marriage, every nonmarriage.

I’m not awfully interested in HJNTIY‘s framing of that question (and, one devastating Home Depot scene notwithstanding, I don’t think the movie handles it with much success), but I do think the film is hitting—tangentially, maybe even by accident—on something zeitgeisty about Filmic Female Friendships in America Today: namely, the extent to which that insincerity infects woman-woman relationships too. The movie spends some expository time on the tendency to lie charitably and to spin the story so that the friend is never forced to occupy that terrible unspoken category: The Undesired.

If the sad-sack Apatovian bromance consists of comfortably joking about each other’s undesirability until the glimmerings of homosocial mutual esteem erupt (as in I Love You, Man), the sororomance (ugh—seriously, we need a word for this) wallows and sometimes drowns in expressions of mutual esteem that must, eventually, turn fake. There comes a point when the friend assuring Gigi “don’t worry, he’ll call,” no longer believes it. She says it anyway. At that point, the female friend becomes an untrustworthy source of comfort. When Gigi says to Janine, quite seriously, that her husband’s infidelity isn’t her fault, Janine can’t hear her. She’s too used to the vocabulary of sugary consolation.

I wouldn’t argue that HJNTIY is about that—the insufficiency of female advice is what gets Gigi dependent on Alex for “truthful” masculine counsel, so it’s probably just a plot device—but it’s one of the few parts of the movie I find interesting. And while I don’t know to what extent it captures a *truth* about modern friendships, it’s definitely theorizing a different modern myth of lady-homosociality than, say, the easy bluntness, the comfortably skeptical chemistry Rosie O’Donnell has with Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle. Or Meg Ryan’s candor to Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally (“he’s never going to leave her”).

Again, while the dilemma of masculine friendship remains at the fore these days, I’m panning for intelligent glimmers of the other. As I think of other films with multiple female protagonists—Mean Girls, Vicky Cristina Barcelona come to mind—I notice that none of them really take the problem by the horns. Whip It has other narrative agendas it puts first, although I have to say that friendship strikes me as more “real.”

I don’t begrudge the boys their time. Friendship is worth thinking about on both ends of the gendered spectrum. But I doubt Beaches and Thelma and Louise are really the best we can do. Until the existential isolation that frequently attends couplehood gets coded something other than exclusively male*, we might have to consign our female friendships to bit parts, and think of them as consolation prizes.

Fondly,
M

*Though actually, Janine’s existence in that half-built house in HJNTIY captures the feminine version of this surprisingly well.

PS: [SPOILER ALERT] That last scene, when Affleck proposes to Aniston after spending seven years on his principled unbelief in marriage! Intensely disappointing. Harriet Vane would have dropped him on the spot.

4 Responses to He’s Just Not That Into You And The Incidental Female Friend

  1. Ms. B-US says:

    I am amazed and pleasantly surprised… I was only able to get through ten minutes of that movie before a rage overtook me that was so deep that I now hate Scarlett Johansen, Jennifer Conelley, the perky wife from Big Love, Jennifer Anniston, as well as all the faceless identical, identically muscled men in the movie, and have refused to see anything by any of them ever since. But you have found something interesting and important in this movie! A mystery that demands unravelling!

  2. Millicent says:

    Well, I wouldn’t say your rage is misplaced! I guess I’d say the subject is interesting and important, but I wouldn’t defend the movie’s treatment of it. I think it *wants* to be interesting and important, and it wants to represent. I hope—fervently—that it’s wrong!

  3. bungars says:

    Remember Joan Crawford as the friend in Working Girl? Her advice always seemed to take for granted that Melanie Griffith was desirable, or at least, to consider this non-conversation. Her advice also always revealed her own class bias and her own interests, if I remember correctly, something the movie didn’t consider shameful but rather honest. Sigh… further proof that the 80s were a high point in feminism from which we have fallen. I’m pretty convinced that no self-respecting woman in the 80s would have watched Mad Men.

  4. Tippytripster says:

    Why wouldnt we watch Mad Men in the 80’s or now? It is a fantastic and fairly accurate representation of the female stereotypes of the 60’s as well as a really incredible reminder of the social norms of the day. Ill have to watch HJNTITY again but when i saw it for the first time, i thought it was a very clumsy and fairly unsuccessful attempt to encapsulate the vault of information about how men think about the women in their lives. Greg Berendt’s interview with Oprah was all that any previously deluded woman need to see. The film, unfortunately did not nail it.

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