Saturday, October 1, 2011

What's Your Number?

What’s Your Number, the new romantic comedy starring Anna Farris, opened up yesterday to, from what I’ve read, some pretty lackluster reviews.  While, as you’ll see in a moment or two, I’m not going to praise this film, I will say it has its moments.  Also, whenever one takes in a movie such as What’s Your Number, or any RomCom for that matter, you should have a pretty good feel for how the film will play out before ever paying for your ticket.   

The trailers for movies in this mold often capsulize the tale.  They seem to consistently offer a good many of the high points and key moments, while providing a fairly accurate overview of plot. 

Within the trailer, or simply by looking at a newspaper ad, more clues are being offered that can easily be overlooked.  By noticing who the actors and actresses are we can gain insight into the type of characters we’ll see on screen.  Oftentimes, in this particular genre, the leads are typically chosen for personality traits they’ve done a good job with in past performances. If an actress seems to have a good handle on the frazzled girl routine one should expect a similar, if not identical characterization to appear in their newest role as well.   
But even without seeing a single trailer or reading any review, one can formulate an idea of how the film will play out, simply by knowing that it’s a Romantic Comedy. 

Romantic comedies are as old as drama itself. For the most part, they seem to nearly always follow a basic formula that is, in most cases a derivation of the “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” storyline.  With this being the norm, I can’t condemn a film for following what others have done before. 

A template, so-to-speak, has been deemed successful and therefore continues to be copied and played with each time a new genre-specific offering is made.  What should be looked at though, is how the writers and directors distinguish their work from the many others that have come before it.  Usually this separating-from-the-pack idea plays out in the form of original inciting incidents, refreshing resolutions, underlying meanings and/or messages and last, but not least, chemistry between the lead actors.

In What’s Your Number, the formula plays out as “girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back,” which is a simple character change to the traditional formula.  Here we have Anna Faris (Scary Movie, The Hot Chick, Mamas Boy, The House Bunny), playing Ally Darling, a girl who has a knack for meeting, and sleeping with, Mr. Wrong.  After being fired from her marketing job, on the train-ride home, she comes across an article that states the average woman sleeps with 10.5 men in her life.  Ally is taken aback in disbelief, as her own number is almost double this figure. 

This particular scene gnaws at her, as she then proceeds to try listing all of her former lovers.  Her preoccupation with this idea is brought out publicly while out for her sister’s bachelorette party.  In this scene we find out that not only does Ally have a much higher number than all of the girls in the wedding party, but that the article also states that once women get past twenty lovers, their chances of never marrying increase dramatically.    A drunken Ally makes a vow that night, that the next man she sleeps with will become the man she marries.  Later that night she finds herself naked in bed, with her ex-boss, who just fired her earlier that day. 

The inciting incident came in the next scene.  She was out shopping with her sister Daisy, played by Ari Graynor (Whip It, Youth In Revolt, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Fringe(TV)), when Ally had a revelation.  She realized that, through her sister’s relationship with her fiancée, how men can change over time, and those who weren’t right previously might be today.  Ally thought this notion was pure genius, as she needed to make sure she didn’t go over that magic number 20, and this plan, in theory, assured her of that.

So Ally began tracking down all her previous lovers, but quickly realized that being a detective was much more difficult than she had anticipated it to be.  Enter “girl meets boy,” when her neighbor Colin, played by Chris Evans (Cellular, Fantastic Four, The Nanny Diaries, Captain America) strolls through her door. 

Colin is shown to be the type of guy that brings a different girl back to his apartment seemingly every night, which, in itself says something about his character, but the fact he purposely sneaks out of his own apartment lying in wait for his “date” to leave says a bit more.

It turns out that Colin is very good at investigating.  The two make a pact, Ally will allow Colin to use her apartment to avoid his one-night stands and he’ll help her track down all of her previous lovers.

The bulk of the remaining scenes show Ally meeting her exes, where for one reason or another, oftentimes humorously, things don’t work out, again.  During this time though we can see the two leads growing closer and love does seem to be in the air.

Despite the promising feelings seemingly shared between the two, Ally is being steered away from Colin, by her naysaying friends and when she finds out he wasn’t disclosing everything to her.  Ally confronts him about the latter “issue” and when he holds firm to his lie, she tells him to leave and in so doing, despite Colin’s reasonable defense, we get to “girl loses boy.”

All seems wonderful as Ally meets the “man of her dreams,” yet something doesn’t seem right and eventually she turns Mr. Perfect down, rushing off to take a final shot to make things right with Colin.  When they do get back together the formula is then complete with “girl gets boy back.”

So how does What’s Your Number stack up, in terms of distinguishing itself from the many varieties of this type of film that has came numerous times before?  Based on the four factors brought up earlier:

Original Inciting Incident:
The magazine angle spark of inspiration has taken place a number of times before, yet this happened to be an interesting take, as it not only connected to the overall theme but it also brought out the question of “second chances,” therefore I’ll give a grade of B- for this category.

Refreshing Resolution:

The last second recognition of what one wants and the seemingly “impossible” quest to make things right has been done so many times before, whether it’s running to catch a person before they board a plane or to make a last second attempt at stopping a wedding, I hope to see something original in the resolve.  In this movie we don’t get anything original at all here, certainly nothing refreshing.  I just felt like the only thing missing from making the resolution thoroughly cliché would have been to increase the stakes in a way that included a time limit, that if not met, all would have been lost.  I’m glad they didn’t include that bit, but still the ending did not impress, my reasoning for giving it a D.

Chemistry Between Lead Actors:

I thought Anna Faris and Chris Evans had pretty good chemistry with one another.  A scene to illustrate this would be the basketball scene that led to a swim in the harbor, where the two seemed perfect for one another, a combination of a complete trust in the other and a few genuine moments of endearing qualities that followed.  The chemistry could have been better but it was good enough, so I’ll give it a B+.

Underlying Messages:

The underlying messages in What’s Your Number are: one should feel comfortable in their own skin; one should do what feels right, never conforming to what others want for you.  The idea that being your own person is strong here.   During the various scenes where Ally remembers her past lovers we can see how she consistently tries to adapt herself into what she felt they wanted, whether it was handing out political flyers, wearing a nose-ring or giving up meat.  Conversely we get to know how much she loves the little figurines she makes.  Leading up to the climax we see Jake, Ally’s Mr. Perfect, asking her to travel the world with him, that she has nobody here holding her back and her little hobby can certainly be put on hold.  The Ally we saw throughout most of the film would have jumped into his arms and agreed, disregarding what she wants, which is completely different that the person Ally had evolved into.  In the end we see a woman who learns what she likes and acts accordingly. For the messages I give the film an A.

Overall, if you’re looking for a romantic comedy and have the ability to overlook the formulaic rehashing of plot, What’s Your Number might be something I would recommend to you.  It has an interesting premise, decent chemistry between the actors, some funny moments and some romantic ones as well.  Certainly a lighthearted comedy where you don’t have to overthink each seen.  Perhaps a good film for someone that simply wants to zone out with a few laughs after a mentally stressful week.

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