They just can’t help themselves – dating delusions pre-2016

Stuck in the house for days (weeks, months) on end and furloughed from work with little to do, being asked to watch films and write about them for Indie+Design should have come as a blessing. Not just any old movies either, I was asked to watch Rom Coms, which, for me are a guilty-blessing-based ice cream sundae with a Drew Barrymore shaped cherry on top.

I was asked to watch He’s just not that into you from 2009 and Think like a man from 2012 and see how they shape up a few years post-release. Both films did well at the box office, and although not critically acclaimed, weren’t by any means panned. Both had strong casts of well-known, well-liked, and talented actors. I got a side helping of Taraji P. Henson with my rom-com sundae AND I got my Drew Barrymore cherry on top.

So far so perfect assignment, right?


Both of these films are based on wildly popular (at the time) self-help books about relationships, but I was prepared to put that aside because rom coms. Admittedly my current state of boredom mixed with underlying fury is probably not the best mindset in which to watch movies about ‘how to find your man’, but even on my sunniest day, I think I might have eye-rolled myself into a migraine of martian (or should that be venus sized) proportions at what I found to be ideas about relationships and gender roles that felt a heck of a lot more than 10 years out of date. I hadn’t seen either of the films before so was coming to them cold, with no nostalgia factor either, and wow, nostalgia might have been useful. Here’s what I learned from my assignment.

He’s just not that into you
Directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, 2009
Based on the book He’s just not that into you by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo, 2004

It starts with a soothing, yet authoritative voice-over ‘A girl will never forget the first boy she likes, even if it doesn’t work out that well’ as we watch a small girl get told she smells like dog poo by a brat of a boy before being reassured by her mother that that means the boy likes her. I think we’re meant to smile wryly at this cliché and decide the film is going to be ‘different’ to all those tales we were told. Hurrumph.

This is an ensemble piece with overlapping stories of women who believe they are the exception to the rule, and the men they are with, or want to be with. Apparently being the exception means that ‘he will call’ ‘he does love me’ or ‘he will marry me’ whereas the rules, presumably written by men, are that none of these things are true.

At the centre of the story, we have Gigi played by Ginnifer Goodwin aka an astonishingly beautiful young woman who looks ‘normal’ by Hollywood standards, and therefore we’re supposed to identify with her because she’s ‘just like us’. Surrounding her we have (amongst others) Ben Affleck, Jennifer Anniston, Scarlett Johanson, a horribly hair-cutted Bradley Cooper, a woefully underused Drew Barrymore, and Justin Long – the everyman to Ginnfer Goodwins every woman.

Only he’s not an everyman is he, he’s Gigi’s bar managing self-help guru, reminding her she’s not the exception she’s the rule by giving her scolding advice whenever she’s confronted with any kind of romantic conundrum. No, that man doesn’t like you, no he’ll never marry your friend, no you’re not special, no he won’t leave his wife. Justin Long’s Alex mansplains and gaslights his way through the film before eventually realising that (it’d be a spoiler if it wasn’t as predictable as giant fucking truck) he’s actually in love with Gigi and voila, the happy ending.

I must have been one of the few women of my age who didn’t see this film when it came out. I know friends of mine did, but I’m rather glad it passed me by. I hated the cliché’s at every turn, I hated the way the women (and in fairness some of the men) were incapable of having any perspective on their lives at all. I hated how stupid all the female characters were, blindly assuming things were rosy when they so fucking obviously weren’t. Prizing ‘man as goal’ above anything else in their lives.

Once Gigi and Alex were in love, we got a chance to see where all the other characters ended up. The cheated-on wife alone in her swanky home was I think, supposed to show us that she was stronger and happier, but she didn’t seem it, she just seemed a bit sad. Bradley Cooper seemed to have learnt not to try and pick up people in the supermarket, which doesn’t feel like enough of a life lesson to have got out of cheating on your wife. Scarlet Johansen learnt nothing because she was a one-dimensional caricature of a ‘hot mid 20s singer chick’ and the two ‘nice’ characters who end up together just seemed pathetic – who the fuck would want to be either of them even if one of them WAS Drew Barrymore?! All of them were lying to each other constantly, no one seemed to have any redeeming qualities, I’d have hated them all but I didn’t really feel invested enough to properly hate them.

At the heart of it, what I really hated was the message of the self-help book (on which the film is based) which seems to be that it takes a man to tell a woman that she isn’t special, she isn’t different, she isn’t liked, but despite all that, she might end up with a boyfriend anyway if she’s really really lucky.

Stars (for the cast, not the writing)
Eye Rolls
Bechdel points

Think like a man
Directed by Tim Story and written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, 2012
Based on the book Act like a lady, think like a man by Steve Harvey, 2009

Oh great, another rom com based on a book where a man tells a woman what she needs to do to get a man. In this instance, at least he isn’t telling her she isn’t special, oh no, he’s saying men are stupid. The clanger here, is that to get one of these stupid men (which is clearly your only goal in life) what you need to do is ACT LIKE one of those stupid men. Hurrumph.
Again, a great ensemble cast here with Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall, and the brilliant Taraji P. Henson amongst others. There’s also a small part played by Chris Brown and I have to admit to wincing a bit every time he came on screen which can’t have helped my enjoyment of the film. As with He’s just not that into you, the film overlaps the stories of different couples in different stages of relationships with the lead men a group of friends at the centre.
Each of the men are ‘types’ so we have the mama’s boy, the non-committer, the dreamer and the player and the film is divided into chapters pitting them against their female counterpart. That set up of x vs y makes it feel like a battle the whole way through, making it abundantly clear for those in the back that finding love between a man and a woman is a fight one can win or lose because your future partner is in fact your adversary. Double Hurrumph.

They attempt some kind of switch up with one of the so say ‘male’ characters actually being a woman with Taraji P. Henson as Lauren a high-flying CEO with a successful job, a massive salary, a love of cars and an enviable range of power frocks. However when her friend insults her by saying ‘you don’t need a man, you are a man’ it nearly made me throw my telly out of the window. They attempt a redemption in the end, but it’s all so blummin cliché’d that you a) see it coming a mile off and b) just don’t care and c) to redeem herself she has to soften.

Think like a man is much more obvious in its roots in a self-help book than He’s just not that into you with Steve Harvey playing himself and the women in the film all getting a copy of his book, and following the instructions in order to ‘get their man’. These instructions appear to include lying, withholding sex, being horrendously demanding about everything, forcing your partner into a job they don’t want and, um, redecorating?

Part way through the film the men find out what’s happening, read the book themselves, turn the tables, and then (shock and awe) find out the rules work and fall in love anyway. In its defence this film made me laugh once or twice, and I didn’t completely hate all of the characters but I also didn’t like them. I didn’t like the idea of a man telling a woman that to get a man you have to be like a man, mostly because I don’t think I know what that means.

According to Steve Harvey ‘male’ traits are apparently setting expectations, demanding levels of respect, lying and having money. ‘Female’ traits on the other hand appear to be only being able to talk about men and nurturing. The combination of what seem like stupendously outdated ideas (and this is only a few years old) had me eye rolling and face palming so much I nearly did myself a mischief.

Eye Rolls
Bechdel points

Suffice to say I’m not a fan of either of these films. However, for those who would like to see for themselves, they’re both readily available on digital platforms. For those of you who might want to watch a Rom-Com that didn’t make me want to throw my telly out of the window may I recommend Miss Congeniality or 13 Going on 30 both of which may have their problems, but are still the kind of Rom-Com ice cream sundaes with chocolate sauce on top* that are perfect for the lockdown blues.


Torie WD

Torie likes cake and doesn’t hate running as much as she used to.

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