THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Men are pigs. Ever hear a woman say that? I have (fortunately, the majority of women seem to be more reasonable; please note that we are only talking about a select few here). I had a close female friend in college who used to say that all the time - to me, a guy. I've heard men say similar things about women. Never makes any sense. How can you make a blanket statement about an entire gender, based solely on the actions of a few bad apples? And if you really feel that way, doesn't it say more about you than about the opposite sex? The new romantic comedy Someone Like You, based on Laura Zigman's best-seller "Animal Husbandry," tackles this very subject matter in an intelligent, funny way.

Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman play roommates who unexpectedly find things heating up between them in the comedy Someone Like You
Actually, the main character - Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) - doesn't believe men are pigs. She believes they are cows (more on that in a minute). Jane works as a talent booker on a TV talk show. She begins a romance with the show's new executive producer, Ray Brown (Greg Kinnear). Ray has been involved in a 3-year relationship with another woman, but says he wants to break that off to be with Jane. They even go so far as getting an apartment together. Ray, of course, then drops the big one - he "can't do this." Jane is left broken-hearted, without a place to live. She ends up moving in with Eddie (Hugh Jackman), another co-worker who is something of a cad, casually dating (and bedding) any woman who will have him. Her place has been re-rented and he needs a roomie, so a platonic arrangement is made.

Jane then begins developing her theory about men. It's an elaborate theory comparing men and women to cows. The males of the species feel the need to spread their seed as widely as possible; once they've mated with a female, they lose all interest in her. The females, meanwhile, can be gussied up in new ways, but will always be identified as "old cows." Jane feels very much the old cow. Her best friend Liz (Marisa Tomei), an editor at M Magazine, encourages Jane to publish her cow theory. She does (under a pen name) and it becomes a national sensation. Meanwhile, Ray makes a return appearance, while Eddie starts to show sides to his personality that Jane doesn't expect, starting with the revelation that he, too, has been hurt in love. Jane spends a lot of time trying to fit these occurrences into her theory, only to become more confused than ever.

It's a visible fact that a lot of movies make fun of men. Sometimes it comes in the form of slapstick groin injury jokes (can you imagine the horror people would feel if a film ever played the same schtick for laughs with a woman?). Other times, it comes as just generally portraying men as dim-witted, inept, or led around by their penises (a problem I had with What Women Want). Someone Like You certainly has the elements to follow suit, but it doesn't. Instead, the men are portrayed realistically. Ray, who seems like one of the good ones on the outside, is actually a creep. And Eddie, who seems like a soulless philanderer, is really more sensitive than he appears. The male characters are allowed to have more than one dimension.

That makes the character of Jane much more interesting. She tries and tries to pigeonhole the men in her life as a way of avoiding the real problem: she makes bad choices. We come to care about her more because, as events unfold, she learns a lot about herself. Too many movie characters change in preordained ways, i.e. they follow their formulaic "arc." In Someone Like You, the heroine is smart, sophisticated, maybe a little messed up but not so much so that she can't learn from her mistakes.

Ashley Judd is absolute perfection in the role. An actress who always projects fierce intelligence, Judd brings layers of complexity to Jane. There's a touching scene in which Eddie confronts Jane about her "old cow" theory after she has again been neglected by Ray. She tells him: "If this theory is wrong, then men don't leave all women, they leave me." The pain Judd brings to that scene is affecting. I also liked the way she shows us Jane's transformation from romantic victim to true-love survivor. It feels real, very true to human nature. The Academy would do well to remember her performance at next year's Oscars.

The film is packed with observant laughs, good performances (Jackman, who played Wolverine in X-Men, is also superb), and moments of emotional resonance for both sexes. It falters only in the big climax, one of those stilted scenes in which someone makes a startling confession on live TV. Otherwise, Someone Like You is a step above the vast majority of romantic comedies. It understands how people invent explanations for their problems, no matter how unstable those explanations may be. It knows that making blanket assumptions only leads to more misery and pain. It says, loud and clear, that many men are not, in fact, pigs. Or cows, for that matter.

(1/2 out of four)

Someone Like You is rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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