‘Romantic comedy’ has become a bit of a misleading label of late, with the romance being synonymous with foreplay as the focal point of the story. Gone are the days in which a romantic encounter atop the Empire State Building would suffice, or a cross-country trip between two mismatched soul-mates would result in true love, with everything from No Strings Attached to the identical Friends With Benefits attempting to stick a square peg into the mainstream’s all-too-willing hole. Not for nothing either: the success of risqué comedies Knocked Up and Bridesmaids have established the public’s craving for something they can enjoy with their best mates and their favourite squeeze equally.
In What’s Your Number?, based on Karyn Bosnak’s novel 20 Times a Lady, Ally Darling (Anna Faris, Yogi Bear) breaks with the latest in a long line of bad relationships and discovers, in the pages of a women’s glossy magazine, that she has slept with more men than double the national average. Concerned she will exceed twenty lovers without ever finding “the one”, she enlists the help of the promiscuous Colin (Chris Evans, Captain America: The First Avenger), who lives in the apartment across the hall. In exchange for using her apartment to hide out from his endless string of morning after girls, he aids her in tracking down past lovers in the hope that one of them will be what she has been looking for.
Every romantic comedy has a conceit that needs to be overcome. Without these arbitrary rules, there would be no conflict and the two people on the poster would probably get together in the first reel. What’s Your Number? has the particularly obnoxious setup of using the number of sexual partners a woman is “supposed” to have before finding the true man. The aim appears to be to present Ally Darling as a modern woman, fully in control of her destiny, but just blind to the fact that she has always been best when beating her own drum. That’s not the euphemism you think it is. Instead, before Ally comes to her final and inevitable realisation, it is almost as though the film is punishing its lead for having a less than “virtuous” history. Is that really the message behind this film? Too much sex might stop you from bagging a man? Indeed, several gags about worn-out vaginas seem to subtly suggest so.
Anna Faris continues her trend of spotty film role selections, despite the fact that we know she is capable of so much more from Brokeback Mountain, Lost in Translation and her appearances on TV’s Entourage. Here she does nothing to redeem the endless parade of Scary Movie films or rom-coms that someone in her talent agency needs to be shot out of a canon for. Meanwhile, genuine megastar Chris Evans, fresh from Captain America and soon to return to the role in The Avengers, is too good for this slender material. Is he still paying penance to Fox for the Fantastic Four films? That said, his previous experience doesn’t go entirely to waste. Shots in which he wears little more than a hand-towel are sure to please all the right demographics.
It’s not a complete disaster, with a handful of genuinely funny lines throughout. One of the best Twitter jokes to grace the screen comes in Ally’s enquiry to Colin as to the location of her coffee pot. “I broke it. If you were on Twitter you would know that already,” comes the knowing reply. Of course, this is all ruined by Ed Begley Jr’s role as a Twitter obsessed father, who perpetuates the bad rep that Tweeters get. It’s the dick jokes that are the real zingers, including a bit from Anthony Mackie as a closeted ex with political aspirations, but as with many recent rom-coms, it falls short of genuine edge with its reliance on coy winks over outrageous zingers.