REVIEW: Anna Faris Draws the Short Straw in What's Your Number?

Movieline Score:


Of course you, and I, know where all this is headed from the beginning. And it's easy enough to go along with even this silly-goose premise if you're on board with Faris. She's been wonderful in movies like The House Bunny, a surprisingly progressive picture masquerading as a retrograde one, about a Playboy bunny who loses her way and ends up as house mother in a sorority house. The House Bunny was extremely sharp about the cruelty women can inflict on one another in the name of so-called sisterhood. (I'll never forget the way one sorority snob looked the cute-as-a-button Faris up and down and decreed, "You do look like an older, sluttier version of the type of girl we would want.") And in the end, no one in The House Bunny is rewarded for using stock feminine wiles; the characters get by only when they use their heads and their hearts.

Ally, on the other hand, gets by via lots of stupid-white-girl behavior, like getting drunk with her girlfriends and dancing shoeless on top of the bar, ending up in the sack with the worst person she could have chosen (namely, her ex-boss), and just generally acting like an idiot, all the while fixated on her weird plan to find the right guy. There's a fine line between a character who has a sense of humor about herself and one who's being repeatedly humiliated for entertainment value, and I'm afraid Ally falls on the wrong side of the line. Faris's timing is as good as it's ever been; it's a glorious tumble of mismatched beats that somehow work like magic. But she spends too much of the movie with her mouth hanging wide open, issuing screams of delight, or embarrassment, or "No way!" bewilderment. She's a desperate good-time girl who just wants to settle down with a nice guy, and neither Mylod nor the screenwriters (Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, adapting Karyn Bosnak's novel 20 Times a Lady) can square those conflicting impulses, or at least acknowledge the toll they might take on a person who's looking for love and companionship.

It becomes not just tiresome but excruciating to watch Ally's desperation as she pursues ex after ex. There's the English guy (Martin Freeman) whom she apparently snared the first time around with a fake British accent; this time around, he's tipped off by her recurring Eliza Doolittleisms, which Faris probably had a great deal of fun delivering but which aren't that much fun to watch. We also see her having awkward sex, in a flashback, with a bespectacled, brace-wearing teen puppeteer played by Andy Samberg. Hilarity ought to ensue, but it doesn't.

The romantic comedy formula demands flawed characters, people who have to overcome something, anything -- shyness, shortsightedness, prejudice, hubris -- to find true love. But somehow, in the past 20 years, "feeling vaguely bad about yourself" has become an acceptably interesting flaw for a romantic comedy heroine, and it's one Faris plays right into here.

Part of the problem, maybe, is that studio executives don't want to risk making a movie where the lead character might not be, to use a word that I still refuse to accept as a real word, "relatable." And the easiest way to make a woman character relatable is to make her a pathetic handwringer with a submerged personality. When did self-pity become the catch-all, fallback position for women characters in romantic comedies? I don't know how we've come to that, but it's time to make it stop. Faris deserves better, and the men playing opposite her, like Evans, do too.

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  • snideproject says:

    I blame Liz Lemon. Seriously-- the best female comedic role model we've got right now is (yet another) pathetic hand-wringer with low self esteem.

  • Tommy Marx says:

    I started reading this review because I was interested in what Stephanie has to say. But then I noticed it was continued on to a second page (because the internets can't handle more than five paragraphs on one page) and I stopped. I understand that MovieLine wants to push as many possible ads on people as possible because that's how it continues to exist, but seriously, pushing a movie review on to a second page?

  • Ben says:

    I take exception to the idea that movies where women behave in ways that would have guys labelled as sexist assholes are thought of as progress. If mere equality were the point, then we could solve the problem of inequality for the handicapped by cutting off the legs of the fully abled. The point is not just to be equal. It's for everyone to do better. Often I feel like these female sex comedies are indulging in another kind of sexism, because they seem to saying that for women, and female sexuality, to be portrayed in a realistic way then they have to be shown to act exactly like men. And not the cool men either. The shitty ones, who we're all so busy trying to ignore.

  • glebe says:

    Ari Graynor plays Anna Faris's OLDER sister? Do they make her look older with makeup or something?

  • Mike the Movie Tyke says:

    A recent New Yorker article profiled Anna and talked a lot about this movie, how producers insisted it include a "gross out" scene and how her "team" wants it to be the film that pushes her onto the A list. Really? A silly premise similar to some low-budget '80s movie is going to win the hearts of America? I like you, Anna, but I think you need a new "team."

  • Mike says:

    BRIDESMAIDS was great. The best comedy of the year and one of the best movies of the year. I think this looks "cute" but Anna deserves better. She's a very talented comedic actress. I've been waiting for her to find a great role to showcase her talents for years.

  • Ben says:

    No way, man. It was awful. Lazy, thrown together, and badly improvised.

  • that gurl says:

    Faris is great in The House Bunny. She needs better vehicles, and should demand them from her team.
    Movieliners - is this a sink or swim Idea? Body switching film starring Anna Faris and Melissa McCarthy....GO!