Maybe I’m growing tired and jaded from seeing large numbers of mediocre movies, but more and more I find that the best I can say of a romantic comedy is that it’s not so bad as I expected it to be. This is certainly true of Someone Like You, primary responsibility for which belongs to Tony Goldwyn, a director whose last film, A Walk on the Moon (1999), was spectacularly awful. Someone Like You, starring Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman, though it shares some of the same assumptions, isn’t quite so bad, and it offers the very wholesome and salutary message that pop psychological explanations of human sexual behavior in terms of Animal Husbandry (the title of the novel by Laura Zigman on which the film is based) are mostly nonsense. But when you’ve said that you’ve pretty much said it all.
Miss Judd plays Jane Goodale, a booker for an Oprah-like TV talk featuring Diane Roberts (Ellen Barkin). After a whirlwind romance with a new colleague called Ray (Greg Kinnear) she is inexplicably dumped. She responds by moving in with another colleague, the frankly misogynistic sexual tomcat, Eddie (Mr Jackman), with whom her own relations are platonic, and by developing what she calls the “New Cow theory” of male-female relationships. Informed by a New York Times Science section article that a bull will not mate with the same cow twice, Jane theorizes that human males, likewise, are simply obeying a natural imperative when they seek out new sexual partners.
Under the name of Dr. Marie Charles, alleged co-founder of the Institute of Pathological Narcissism in Vienna, Jane publishes her findings in a woman’s magazine run by her Best Friend and fellow victim of male perfidy, Lizzy (Marisa Tomei). The article soon becomes the talk of the nation, and Diane Roberts instructs Jane to do whatever it takes to “get the ungettable ‘get’” and book Dr. Marie Charles on the show. Somewhat surprisingly, the only person not swept away by the brilliance of Jane’s insight into the analogy between human and bovine sexual behavior is the porcine Eddie. Could there be more to him than meets the eye? You will see where this is going a long, long time before it gets there. The question is, will you care?
Well, maybe a little. But there is a problem, I think, in the contradiction between the film’s romantic aspirations on the one hand and its too-unquestioning acceptance of sexual libertinism on the other. It makes fun of traditional morality when a Dr. Laura Schlessinger-type called Mary Lou Corkle appears on the Diane Roberts Show and is subjected to the supposedly devastating question from the host: “Who’s making your kids’ beds while you’re doing this book tour for three months?” But it is completely lacking in a sense of irony about its own attachment to the new morality. Thus we have Jane in the first flush of her love for Ray gushing: “He just came right out and said it after only six weeks! He asked me to live with him. I must have said yes, because he’s consulting realtors, and I’ve given my landlord notice.”
Isn’t that just so sweet! But if love for her means nothing more in the way of commitment than the signing of a short-term lease, it’s hard for us to get too worked up when even that much commitment proves too much for Ray. “I don’t know,” he says. “I just think that we both need to take a step back. I mean we’re talking about a very serious move here.” Well sure! They might lose their deposit! Hence, the portentous narcissism of the voiceover narration by Jane: “There are few things sadder in this life than watching someone walk away after they’ve left you.” Well, maybe one or two things. But if it wasn’t on her agenda in the first place to qualify their intimacy with some kind of commitment, we can’t help asking ourselves: what else did she expect?
There is, it’s true, a certain amount of unintended comedy in the fact that it is Eddie, who uses women like toilet paper, who teaches Jane, the would-be social anthropologist, that “These are people, not cows.” But we who look on are perhaps not quite so sure. The problem posed by the film is put like this: “Which was worse: guys like Ray who blinded you with charm and romance…or guys like Eddie who went straight for your pants?” There is something rather bovine about the stupidity of someone who cannot see that there is no real difference between the two.