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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2001
Like we didn't know already?
By KAORI SHOJI
"Someone like you should not be in this movie, honey!"
I would like to say this to Ashley Judd, star and centerpiece of "Someone Like You," another picture in the recent increasingly popular genre of "anthropological love comedy." And just what do I mean by anthropological? (Pens poised over notebooks, please.) These are love stories that analyze and dissect the gender war, drawing from varying sources like the Mars/Venus difference of the sexes, or based on best sellers like "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days."
This obsession with analysis is not new. Jane Austen used to do it too, in a more roundabout and subtle way. In modern times, however, filmmakers and scribes cut right to the chase. Especially in this movie. The focal point is: Men are commitment-phobic "bulls," destined to go through one "new cow" after another, so once a woman becomes an "old cow," that's it.
While the theory is fun and perhaps instructive (hey, anything to get me through the night), it doesn't have enough horsepower to drive "Someone Like You" over the bumpy, muddy terrain of triteness and plot contrivances. Midway, as the story disintegrates into formula, the viewer's mind refuses to follow the story line anymore and decides instead to concentrate on Ashley Judd's outfits and how she does her hair. Which yields its own rewards, but still.
Directed by Tony Goldwyn (an actor best known for appearances in "Ghost" and "Kiss the Girls"), "Someone Like You" first pairs Judd with the wrong guy before she wakes up to the fact that it was really someone else she was fated to love. Wow, so original. Jane Goodale (Judd) is a N.Y. talent booker working for TV personality Diane Roberts (Ellen Barkin changed out of recognition), and best friends with magazine editor Liz (Marisa Tomei).
The big topic on all three of their minds is this: What do men want? An awful amount of phone conversation and e-mail is invested in this fascination, mainly because these smart, beautiful and independent women cannot seem to swing into long-lasting relationships.
Then Jane hooks up with colleague Ray Brown (Greg Kinnear), who is everything she wished for: sympathetic, sensitive, etc. Their affair blossoms over the course of a few weeks, then plops into a trash can right before Jane is scheduled to move out of her old apartment and in with Ray. (He gives her the departing "it's not you, it's me" speech over brunch.) Like all New Yorkers whose relationships collapse, Jane is devastated on both counts: suddenly, no boyfriend and no apartment. Actually, she should have taken the hint when they were apartment-hunting (always a delicate affair in that city), and Ray didn't get totally ecstatic over a cute place with a balcony.
Enter Eddie (Hugh Jackman), Jane's other coworker -- a womanizing, sexist sleazebag who is prone to wearing tight, black T-shirts. He just happens to have a huge loft with an extra bedroom in the meat-packing district and invites Jane to share the place. At this point, allow me to sigh and roll my eyes. Single people in New York. do not live in two-bedroom lofts and why do movies always insist on such finds being located in the meat-packing district? Filmmakers should just be honest and put their characters inside badly ventilated hovels on the Upper East Side.
After that, "Someone Like You" begins a downward spiral descent into Something Like Dumb. Jane moves in with Eddie and begins observing his single life, comprised mainly of bar pickups. And having nothing else to do, she begins to fill sheets of notebook paper with the "Bovine Theory" of love relationships: The reason why women (cows) can't hold onto men (bulls) is because the bulls are biologically incapable of sticking to an "old cow."
Liz offers to run her scribblings in a weekly magazine column, under the pseudonym of a nonexistent woman scientist. Naturally, the column is a huge success, and Diane wants Jane to book this scientist for her show. In the meantime, Ray resurfaces to invite Jane out for New Year's Eve. Jane is in a quandary: If Ray is coming back, then the bovine theory is a lie, and she will have to retract everything! And while she agonizes, she has to decide what to wear for the party! And what about Eddie who is supportive in his gruff, macho way and whom she begins to have feelings for!? Talk about mad cow disease, this is it girls, and let's not forget it.
My fear is that actresses like Judd, Tomei, Sandra Bullock and Renee Zellweger are trying hard to be Julia Roberts -- and somehow failing. It's as if after 30 that's the only career option available in Hollywood. Anthropological comedies should focus on this more immediate and gripping issue and just leave the commitment-phobia thing alone. There's nothing a movie can teach us that we don't know already.