Wednesday, October 5, 2011

You'd Better Shop Around: WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?

What’s Your Number? is a safe, coarse, and standard romantic comedy trying mightily, and mostly succeeding, to reign in, sand down, and otherwise hide the impressive talent of its lead actress, Anna Faris. Otherwise, the film would float off into infinitely stranger and more delightful directions. With her big eyes, plucky physicality, and total commitment to potentially embarrassing concepts, she’s like a bodacious blonde second coming of Lucille Ball. There’s little wonder why her best role is as the lead in 2008’s The House Bunny, in which she gets to play a fired Playboy bunny who finds work as a sorority mother. It allows her to match the weirdness of a concept and then double down on a hugely appealing bobble-headed bizarreness.

Since the R-rated comedy has been abundant and largely terrible this year, I guess it’s some kind of refreshing that What’s Your Number? is only predictable and mushy instead of actively ugly or distressing. But Farris isn’t allowed to elevate the proceedings. The movie doesn’t insult your patience, only your intelligence and your expectations. It’s all so standard, but at least it’s kind of briskly laborious in its set up. Faris plays a woman we first meet getting brushed off by her latest beau. He was her nineteenth lover. Later that day, on a lonely subway ride after getting fired, she reads a magazine article that claims women who have been with twenty or more men will not get married. Since she’s going to her younger sister’s engagement party that night, marriage is on her mind. She heads out to a bar with her sister (Ari Graynor) and her gal pals to celebrate and after a night of tipsy talk about her nineteen exes, she goes home with number twenty.

The next morning, Farris kicks him out and realizes then and there that the magazine had to be right, so her future husband is one of the previous twenty. She runs into the man (Chris Evans) who lives across the hall and is instantly repulsed, although she agrees to help him hide out from his latest ex, still lingering in his apartment, in exchange for his help tracking down her many exes. It’s a strained circumstance that forces them together and it’s all too obvious how this story is going to end. They don’t seem to like each other very much, but whom are they fooling? They’re attractive, likable performers who are the two above-the-title leads of the film. How are they not going to end up together? It’s hardly a spoiler when the movie is practically spoiling itself.

On the predictable road to the big dramatic race to a conclusion in which they finally realize that they are just perfect for each other, we are presented a troupe of mostly recognizable faces as the exes. We briefly meet Chris Pratt, Mike Vogel, Martin Freeman, Andy Samberg, Thomas Lennon, and Anthony Mackie. They each get a little potentially funny moment or two but it usually passes by without the burden of laughter. Mackie gets one line that made me snicker a little and Pratt has a few as well, but the structure of the film discourages any real connection with the characters who are simply personified obstacles for the plot that keeps the two most likable people apart, denying their true feelings in true rom com fashion.

The relationships and circumstances of the various exes are ill defined, the central flaw in the picture. It doesn’t help that the direction of Mark Mylod is merely functional and the script by Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden feels a product of copious compromise. And though she’s thoroughly restrained by it all, Faris kept me interested. There’s a sense that at any moment she might break away from the clutches of mediocrity and surprise. She plays with accents in a fun scene. She slams into physical comedy with exuberance. She throws herself into the role. But the role, and the film, has far too little for her to work with. The film’s a pleasant but dull, predictable missed opportunity, nothing more, and nothing less.

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