How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Paramount Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I thought this came out later. I seem to remember a poster for this movie being up like it was new when I was in college. Maybe I was mistaken about why it was up, or maybe a movie with a similar poster was out at the time. It’s not a very original poster design.

Anyway, there are few better ways to manufacture conflict in a romantic comedy than to have the romantic leads have opposing goals they’re hiding from each other, and this is one of the most basic forms of that. He’s made a bet that he can make her love him in 10 days, she’s trying out a relationship destruct plan for an article she intends to write. And there’s a lot of quirkiness along the way I guess.

After watching the movie:

Andie Anderson wants to write hard-hitting articles about world issues, but right now she’s writing popular fluff how-to listicle columns for Cosmop–er, Composure Magazine, on promises from her editor that once she’s proven herself with these vapid topics, she’ll be allowed to write about anything she wants. In the wake of her best friend’s latest breakup, Andie hits on the idea of writing an article about relationship-killing mistakes women make by dating a guy and then trying them all on him until he leaves her, and her editor gives her a 10-day deadline. Ad exec Ben Barry is trying to get his boss to put him on the DeBee- um, DeLauer diamond company account that it was his idea to pursue in the first place, but his boss gave it to Judy and Judy because he believes women know how to sell diamonds to women better. On the idea that a diamond ad has to make a woman fall in love, Ben is challenged to go meet a woman and bring her to the DeLauers’ party in ten days’ time completely in love with him. The Judys, having met Andie at Composure and learned about her assignment, point Ben in her direction in order to set him up to fail. But no matter what terrible things she does to him, Ben just won’t leave Andie. Even if it’s going to kill them both.

I was surprised to learn this was based on a book, but the book appears to be a book of comics illustrating the what-not-to-dos rather than a narrative. So this movie anticipates that strange trend about a decade later where somebody got the idea to graft stories onto advice books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “Think Like a Man”. Sometimes basing narratives on non-narrative things gives them a grounding, but here, the wisdom of the “not-to-do” list gets quickly buried in the plot contrivances. Andie in “crazy girlfriend” mode is more of a parody of what not to do than a good model for study.

The ulterior motives on display here exemplify a mindset we seem to have in our culture, and definitely in our media, in which stories would fall apart if people actually talked to each other, that other people, especially prospective romantic partners, are games to be played rather than fellow humans capable of reason and negotiation. Andie and Ben both see their relationship as disposable means to their own ends at first, and only have second thoughts when they let down their guard and start to get to know them. Andie’s even speedrunning her game. Not every connection between people has to be a deep emotional bond, but I think there would be fewer problems (and fewer entertaining stories to tell) if people started their relationships with the question “what do we want?” instead of “what can I get from you, and what will it cost me?”

The basic script for a romantic comedy is very well-defined. Some movies transcend that framework while still using it. Others just put some new decoration in the same space they all use. This doesn’t have much on top of the “gimmick + romantic comedy outline” basics, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Nobody watches these movies to see something new. The high levels of dramatic irony this runs on give every scene a bit of an edge, even if the organization of the scenes is as predictable as ever. Even if you know every turn on the track, one more ride on your favorite roller coaster can still thrill you.

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