What's this? An authentically human romantic comedy without any sign of two-dimensional stereotypes, nose-crinkling cute stock sweethearts or broadly farcical emotional retards? Well, beat me with a valentine! Who'd have thunk it.
At first glance, "Someone Like You" may look like a formulaic chick flick about a pert, 30-ish career gal (Ashley Judd) who moves in with a womanizing wolf of a co-worker (Hugh Jackman) after being dumped by her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear). But the people that populate this picture are refreshingly genuine and multifaceted, with understandable motives and tangible feelings.
Sure Roy (Kinnear) dumps Jane (Judd) just before they're about to move in together and just after her apartment has been rented to someone else. But he's not just an insensitive jerk toying with her heart. He got spooked by the speed of their relationship (they'd only been going out six weeks) and he'd left another woman for her. The guy is genuinely torn, wracked with doubts and guilt.
Not that Jane doesn't have every right to hate him. In fact, she becomes obsessed with figuring out why men have such a problem with monogamy and develops a theory based on the behavior of bulls, which never mate with the same cow twice (which is total BS made up for the movie). "I'm the old cow," she bawls to her best friend, played by Marisa Tomei.
In a desperation move, she bunks up in the spare bedroom of chiseled, handsome Eddie (Jackman), a Don Juan extraordinare whose life is so full of disposable women that his entire medicine cabinet is taken up with boxes of condoms. As long as she's living there, she figures he'll make a perfect case study for her New Cow theory. But there's more to Eddie than meets the eye too.
Much to Jane's surprise, he understands her broken heart completely. His womanizing is a Freudian attempt to purge the memory of an ex-girlfriend who recently moved out on him. Deep down, they're a lot alike. When she's not disgusted with him, he's quite the comfortable shoulder to cry on. Jackman (Wolverine in "X-Men") is disarmingly charming, and when he lets down his guard, he and Judd have a goosepimplingly good chemistry together.
Although she gets off to a slow start, Judd plays Jane with a perfect mix of bitterness, irony and hope. Jane recognizes her bovine-based hypothesis as a "sick, twisted, pathetic hobby." She has no problem soldiering through her job as a booker for a estrogen-charged daytime talk show (hosted by power-feminist Ellen Barkin), even though both the men complicating her life are producers for the program. She's not just some comedic basket case. And adding to her real-world authenticity, she even has a realistic body type.
It's a shame the plot can't seem to adhere to that same sense of authenticity.
While it's funny and fresh, from the very beginning "Someone Like You" has its nagging problems -- like the fact that Judd is a bloody awful narrator. Her frequent, invasive voiceover (usually the sign of a stumped screenwriter) is over-articulated and uncharacteristically cutesy-poo. The movie's incidental music is invasive too, and annoyingly, unoriginally maudlin.
But the almost insurmountable flaw is the lame and paradoxically unrealistic plot gimmick employed to wrap all the themes up in a neat little package for a happy ending. Tomei, an editor at a glossy men's magazine, persuades Judd to write a column about her New Cow theory under a pseudonym. Not happy with simple anonymity, she concocts a fictional 65-year-old psychologist to lend credence to her novelty ideology. The column is a hit and soon Judd is being ordered to find this woman and book her on Barkin's talk show.
This blatantly mechanical plot device exists only so Judd can 'fess up and make a "I've realized something..." speech before chasing after Jackman for a swoony closing-credits embrace. I can't begin to tell you all the holes in this pathetically contrived development, but suffice it to say it's a serious drag on the movie's veracity. In the real world a stunt like this would get both Tomei and Judd fired instantly.
But, having said that, sophomore director Tony Goldwyn has a knack for cutting through trite artifice to find truth and honesty in his characters. His first film, "A Walk On the Moon," encompassed every Summer of '69 cliché known to man and he still turned it into something sincere and original. He sees past the flaws in "Someone Like You," he knows where to find the humor, and he lets the convincingly complicated and fully realized characters speak for themselves.