By Stephanie Zacharek
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Amidst the plethora of films with 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, in which 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 non-work time is spent comparing notes with her similarly frustrated best friend, Liz (Marisa Tomei).
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 her predecessors, suddenly gets cold feet, she'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 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 onscreen.
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?
Actually, given that in the real world, equally banal psychobabble from the likes of John Gray and Barbara De Angelis have 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 flat, lifeless Final Big Speech.
Judd has a tremendously likable screen presence: She almost generates enough goodwill 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 blandness of the material. Someone Like You goes down smoothly but leaves no impression.
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