How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days



USA 2003 : Daniel PETRIE : 116 mins

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days starts so badly that ‘How to Lose an Audience in 10 Minutes’ would be a more appropriate title: exposition-heavy dialogue sets up the wildly contrived and convoluted premise, with bland, gauzy visuals and relentless perky muzak to let us know what we’re watching is supposed to be a light, bright romantic comedy. This does, against all expectations, eventually materialise – but quite a long way in, and only to vanish again all too suddenly.

Manhattan journalist Andie (Kate Hudson) pens a series of ‘How to.’ pieces for Composure, a very Cosmopolitan-ish magazine run by tart-tongued Lana (Bebe Nuewirth, slumming). Though ambitious and politically inclined (we see an article absurdly headlined ‘How to. bring peace to Tajikistan’), Andie is stuck in a creative rut of pieces on romance, fashion and health. Her latest wheeze, inspired by her unlucky-in-love gal-pal Michelle (Kathryn Hahn), involves deliberately sabotaging a romance to show her readers what not to do the next time they hook up with a man. Her chosen target is macho-but-sensitive advertising executive Ben (Matthew McConaughey), who just so happens to have staked a lucrative contract on his ability to make any available woman fall in love with him within ten days. Via the machinations of various minor characters, it’s Andie who’s selected as his ‘mark’.

This set-up is every bit as laborious, implausible and convoluted as it sounds. But it proves a pill that’s just about worth swallowing by the time Andie finally puts her ‘plan’ into action and starts behaving like the girlfriend from hell. Manifesting classic – and all-too-accurate – ‘clingy, needy, whiny’ traits, she fills his bachelor pad with cuddly toys, ruins his sacrosanct “boys’ night” poker game, disrupts his viewing of major sporting events and even purchases a small dog who proceeds to pee all over his pool table.

By this stage the script (by Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan and Igby Goes Down auteur Burr Steers, and based on a book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long) has finally built up some sitcom-ish but surprisingly effective comic momentum, with the leads settling into their roles and Hudson in particular having fun with what could have been, in lesser hands, a shrill caricature of female manipulativeness. Things are going so well for a time, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook the gauzy look, the jaunty muzak, the limitations of director Petrie (Miss Congeniality) and even the film’s relentless, crass product placement – however much Budweiser, Coca-Cola and the New York Knicks contributed to the film’s budget, it wasn’t enough.

But when Andie visits Ben’s family on Staten Island, the wheels abruptly fall off the wagon. We’re introduced to various colourful relatives (including Igby‘s Celia Weston as Ben’s raucous mother) and led to expect Meet The Parents-style shenanigans to unfold – or at least a bit of About Schmidt awkwardness. Instead, Andie abruptly abandons her plan as her feelings for Ben start to blossom: in short order, Petrie uses two sugary romantic songs on the soundtrack, and suddenly all the air and pep ebbs out of the movie. The ‘climax’ – at an opulent ball – is especially mechanical and awkward, with the lovebirds (who by now have been let in on each other’s schemes by those handy minor characters) tonelessly singing ‘You’re So Vain’ on stage accompanied by an understandably bewildered-looking Marvin Hamlisch (as himself.) Those early contrivances come back to haunt the movie in fairly devastating fashion, with a limp and predictable coda as Ben rushes to stop Andie as she leaves for a new job in Washington.

Not that American audiences seem to have mind these fairly glaring problems – the film exceeded all expectations by reaching the $100m milestone, propelling Hudson to the next level of stardom and confirming the promise she’d shown with her Oscar-nominated turn from Almost Famous. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is mainly of interest, however, for another off-screen factor – it’s easily the biggest hit in many years for legendary uber-producer Robert Evans (who co-produced with Christine Peters and Lynda Obst), now known to the wider public from the autobiography (and subsequent documentary film) The Kid Stays in the Picture. Could this innocuous bit of chick-flick fluff really be the movie that finally, finally sets up Evans to get his much-coveted Irving Thalberg award at the Oscars? Yes. Would Evans mind? No.

14th April, 2003
(seen same day, Warner Village, Newcastle)

by Neil Young