Animal Instincts

Someone Like You takes a good idea like "adult romantic comedy" and lifts its leg all over it

Amid the plethora of films starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Mena Suvari, Chris Klein and Jason Biggs, it's nice--in theory, at least--to see a contemporary romantic comedy like Someone Like You, where the characters, while hardly over the hill, are all over 30. In practice, however, "nice" is really about as strong an endorsement as one can manage. Watching Someone Like You makes one think of that other current release, Memento--not because of any similarity in quality, but rather because 15 minutes after you leave the theater, you (like the latter film's protagonist) are likely to forget you've even seen a movie.

Ashley Judd stars as Jane Goodale, a guest wrangler for Diane Roberts (Ellen Barkin), an ambitious daytime talk show host. The thirtyish Jane is, like many a savvy young career woman--not to mention the rest of the human race--baffled by her inability to develop a permanent romantic relationship. Her nonwork time is primarily spent comparing notes with her similarly frustrated best friend, Liz (Marisa Tomei). (It says something about Tomei's career arc that she's been demoted to Star's Best Friend in precisely the sort of film she would have headlined a few years back.)

Dog days: Ashley Judd and Greg Kinnear can't overcome the sheer blandness of Someone Like You.
Dog days: Ashley Judd and Greg Kinnear can't overcome the sheer blandness of Someone Like You.

During a whirlwind courtship by new co-worker Ray (Greg Kinnear), Jane gives up her apartment so they can move in together. When Ray, like all of his predecessors, suddenly gets cold feet, Jane's forced by circumstance to become roommates with Eddie (Hugh Jackman), the most notorious fuck-'em-and-shuck-'em womanizer in the office.

While watching a TV documentary, Jane suddenly realizes that the problem is biological: Human relationships are as determined by Darwinism and chemistry as much as animal relationships are. So compelling do her arguments become that Liz, who works at a major men's magazine, hires her to pour them into a monthly column. The embarrassed Jane insists on a pseudonym, so the friends contrive the persona of Dr. Marie Charles, the alleged 65-year-old founder of the Vienna Institute of Pathological Narcissism. It doesn't take much to predict where all this is headed: Dr. Charles becomes fabulously popular, putting all sorts of pressure on Jane, and the putatively feminist heroine finds herself growing increasingly close to her macho pig roommate.

Someone Like You is adapted from Laura Zigman's 1998 novel Animal Husbandry, which achieved some kind of literary reputation. Whatever qualities the original might have are not particularly evident on screen.

The central premise is especially weak: The world drops to its knees in admiration over the revelation that human relations are comparable to the animal world? Huh? The word "bitch" migrated over from the canine kingdom a long, long time ago; animal metaphors for courting behavior are so commonplace we barely notice them. Yet, in the universe of Someone Like You, Jane's rather pedestrian observations are taken as dazzlingly original. Where have these people been?

Actually, given that in the real world, equally banal psychobabble from the likes of John Gray and Barbara De Angelis has attracted large fan bases, maybe this hook isn't quite so unbelievable. But that doesn't make it any less lame. Clearly, we're supposed to be equally impressed with the brilliance of her analysis, even though the film eventually disowns it in a Final Big Speech scene that is a flat, lifeless clone of Tootsie's climax.

Judd has a tremendously likable screen presence: She almost generates enough good will to finesse us past this problem. Jackman reinforces his status as the New Hunk (as first exposed in X-Men). The script manages a dozen or so really funny lines, and Tony Goldwyn's direction is well-paced.

But in the end, the various talents on display aren't enough to overcome the sheer blandness of the material. Someone Like You goes down smoothly but leaves almost no impression.

 
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