2003, Paramount. Directed by Donald Petrie. Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Klein.
Decent Films Ratings
Content advisory: An implied nonmarital affair (no explicit nudity); some crude and sex-related dialogue; an instance of profanity.
By Steven D. Greydanus
It’s a foregone conclusion that guys are not the primary target audience for the typical romantic comedy, but give How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days credit for trying not to lose its male audience members: This is the first chick flick I’ve ever seen with scenes of NBA action featuring the New York Knicks, a rugged Triumph Bonneville motorcycle manfully driven by Matthew Maconaughey, and (I swear I am not making this up) a vehicular chase scene (just a little one) that ends on the Manhattan Bridge over the East River.
The movie also features footage from the famous climactic scene of one of the most celebrated romantic comedies of the last decade, Sleepless in Seattle, the moment when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet at last atop the Empire State Building. This scene is a well-known tribute to An Affair to Remember; and now the tradition continues with this movie’s own tribute to Sleepless in Seattle, the moment when Kate Hudson (The Four Feathers) and Matthew Maconaughey (Reign of Fire) are reunited atop the Manhattan Bridge.
Now, the top of the Empire State Building is a lofty destination, an end in itself. By contrast, a bridge is only for going from one place and another. Like all of New York’s major river crossings, the Manhattan Bridge is undeniably a marvel of modern engineering; but for romance and evocative appeal, the Empire State Building surely has the edge by a considerable margin.
The movie’s biggest problem, and it’s an insurmountable one, is that it takes two likable, attractive stars and then forces them to engage in embarrassing, uncomfortable, unpleasant interactions in which neither they nor anyone around them is having any fun.
Of course embarrassing and uncomfortable situations can sometimes be funny, if there’s something inadvertent or inevitable about it, or if one character is innocently oblivious to another character’s agony, or something of the sort. Here, though, we have one character deliberately behaving like an idiot precisely in order to make the other character as unhappy as possible, and the other character gritting his teeth and enduring it for reasons that have nothing to do with how he feels about her. This is neither funny nor romantic, but degenerates into a mere endurance test — for the audience no less than the characters.
Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a columnist with a master’s in journalism who longs to cover tough political stories but works for a vapid women’s magazine (parse that however you like) called Composure, where she’s surrounded by coworkers who appear to be indistinguishable from their own target audience and whose intellectual lives revolve around shoes, dating, fashion, and celebrity gossip. ("Who’s that chic Buddhist that Richard Gere cavorts with?" asks Andie’s editor [Bebe Neuwirth], meaning the Dalai Lama. "He’s fabulous.")
Matthew Maconaughey plays Ben Barry, an advertising executive who wants to pitch a lucrative ad campaign for Harry Winston diamond jewelry, but is surrounded by sexists who operate on the assumption that men and women are each incapable of understanding and selling products aimed primarily at the other sex.
Through a series of clunky plot contrivances that director Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality) makes no attempt whatsoever to finesse, Andie winds up with an assignment to begin dating a guy and then drive him away within ten days "making only the classic dating mistakes," while Ben makes a wager with his boss (Robert Klein) for the ad campaign that he can make any woman fall in love with him in exactly the same time period.
And what exactly are the "classic dating mistakes," according to this movie? I can accept the clingy behavior and premature expressions of commitment as fair targets for satire and potentially funny to some moviegoers. Guys who’ve been spooked by this sort of behavior may enjoy the film’s vindication of their emotional withdrawal, while women who’ve lost guys by jumping the emotional gun may enjoy seeing the guy forced to take it and like it, or perhaps feel a sense of superiority that at least their behavior was never as out of bounds as Andie’s. (Of course, Andie is doing it on purpose.)
Where How to Lose a Guy loses me completely is when Andie’s behavior takes a turn for the psychotically infantile. I wish I could say the movie’s low point is the scene in which Andie begins making goo-goo talk to Ben’s (still-trousered) male member, even bestowing a feminine baby-doll nickname on it (a gag the movie returns to again and again). For sheer unbearableness, though, the prize may go to the sabotaging of Ben’s poker night with the guys.
This scene requires Andie to hold a tissue to Ben’s nose, clucking, "Nobody likes a Mr. Sniffles!", peep through the kitchen service window at the guys shrieking "Peekaboo!", and finally throw a tantrum over the sorry state of the "love fern" she bought for Ben several days earlier.
Afterward, as Ben comes groveling back to her, begging her to give him another chance, Andie asks incredulously, "Haven’t you had enough?" Perhaps he hadn’t, but I sure had. Of course, Ben had a prestigious assignment to win, and I had no such incentive.
Just as you’re about to give up completely on the film, there’s a glimpse of humanity: Andie accepts an invitation to visit Ben’s family on Staten Island, presumably intending to further humiliate him in front of family members. To her surprise, she finds herself charmed by Ben’s warm, close-knit relatives, and spends an enjoyably diverting weekend playing cards with the family and learning to ride Ben’s Bonneville on the boardwalk.
Yet all hope that this sequence will prove a crucial turning point is lost as the couple returns to Manhattan and looming Andie’s deadline. The inevitable scene in which They Find Out is a complete mess; I won’t go into details, but I will note that when one character reasonably observes, "This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard," he isn’t describing Andie and Ben’s vested interests, but their actual behavior at that moment.
Hudson and Maconaughey are ill-matched as romantic leads. Not that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan could have had any chemistry under these conditions; but Maconaughey is a formidable screen presence, and Hudson’s too young and green to hold the screen against him. It doesn’t bode well for romantic comedy when the guy is out of the girl’s league.
Perhaps if you just think Matthew Maconaughey is so cute that you will enjoy watching him no matter how humiliated and miserable he is, then you may like this movie. But do the man in your life a favor and don’t subject him to it. Even Andie at her worst only subjected Ben to Sleepless in Seattle and a Céline Dion concert — and that was after taking him to the Knicks game. If she’d taken him to a movie like this one, she really might have lost him for good.