8/28/2009

Blu-ray Review: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: Deluxe Edition (2003)



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When faced with the overwhelming plethora of self-help books unleashed on the masses on a weekly basis, the only logical response is laughter. While topics may run the gamut mostly the material (which preys on the brokenhearted and vulnerable) utilizes common sense that reasonably intelligent and well-adjusted individuals should already possess by the age of twelve. Of course the key is in the marketing and the all-important "gimmick" as common sense is repackaged with catchphrases, convoluted systems, untested rules, cliched secrets and/or silly new-age nonsense all for the price of $24.95 in hardcover.



And despite the success of some of the works whether they become an Oprah endorsed effort like The Secret or a feature film like He's Not Just That Into You, possibly the best way to turn the thinly disguised self-loathing genre frequently directed at women around is to use the idiocy of it to inspire a humorous response.



And that is exactly what two good friends Michelle Alexander and Jeannie Long did when they chatted about the craze that swept the nation after publishers released The Rules that consisted of a so-called foolproof way to snag the man of your dreams.



With The Rules as a jumping off point, Alexander and Long joked back and forth about the worst "rules" and personal mistakes and anecdotes they could think of to drive away the man of their dreams as a sort of "how to" dating guide in reverse. Fittingly, this is the nearly identical description that Kate Hudson's journalist Andie Anderson makes shortly into the feature film based on their humorous book, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.



And while much to their amusement and amazement, bookstores frequently place Alexander and Long's comedic work into the "self-help" section-- perhaps by this point not being able to get the joke due to how much garbage normally fills that department of the store-- luckily producers Lynda Obst, Robert Evans, and Christine Peters got the joke and realized the potential for a clever romantic comedy goldmine in the original source material.

Overseen by Paramount's then studio head Sherry Lansing, the film benefited greatly not only by the instantaneous chemistry between Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey but also by ensuring that in front of and behind the camera, both genders were represented and able to keep the humor consistently watchable.



Helmed by Grumpy Old Men, Mystic Pizza, and Miss Congeniality director Donald Petrie, the work that was adapted by screenwriters Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan and Igby Goes Down filmmaker Burr Steers uses the standard cliche of a romantic bet as the impetus for its humor but luckily the movie quickly kicks into high gear in ways we haven't seen before.



For then as San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle noted, "the movie reveals itself as a laugh machine, with jokes building on jokes and situations escalating into higher degrees of comic absurdity." And by bravely going against the overwhelming spirit of general loathing towards romantic comedies including titles like this one in his largely male dominated profession, LaSalle goes on to praise it as being a film that's "as close to French farce as romantic comedies get, and the closer the better."



Indeed evidence of this is there from the start as it will appeal to the same mistaken identity, unlikely coincidences, and "does he know that she knows that we know?" style of framing we've seen in French comedies by writer/directors like Francis Veber (The Closet, The Dinner Game, The Valet) among others. Yet overall I was struck by its zany, carefree approach and emphasis on back-and-forth one-upmanship gamely engaged in by our leads in what originally I viewed as a spirited throwback to screwball comedies.



Ambitious to put her graduate degree to good use by writing about things that matter such as politics, world peace and religion instead of being "the resident 'how to' girl" of Composure Magazine--their thinly disguised play on Vogue magazine, complete with Bebe Neuwirth tackling Anna Wintour-- Hudson's Andie pitches an entertaining spin on her usual column with her suggestion that hearkens to the film's title.



If she nails the column, Andie believes she'll be granted greater reign to write the pieces she's passionate about. So, finding this twist irresistible, she and her two friends set about "hooking a guy" before she will eventually "flip the switch" a.k.a. start doing everything in her power to send the man running by embracing the type of female behavior that often leads to not only break-ups but in Andie's decision to step things up a notch, nearly jail time... if that is, she had been dating any other guy than Benjamin Barry.

For while the film endears us to Andie and her delightful yet devious plight, we're simultaneously introduced to her cinematic combination of intellectual equal/professional rival/love interest as personified by McConaughey's smug yuppie Benjamin Barry. The Andie of his office, early into the movie Ben tries to convince his own dominant boss to give him the chance to try something new as well in his advertising agency. And just like Andie is tired of playing it safe writing "how to" columns most likely read quickly in beauty salons, Ben is tired of always getting the beer commercial and sports equipment contracts. Thus, when a wealthy diamond ad campaign is dangled his way, he makes a bet that he has what it takes to make women fall in love with both diamonds and himself.



Not willing to give in, two of Ben's gorgeous female colleagues who'd met with Andie's boss at Composure earlier that day happen to see the "how to" writer in the same bar at precisely the right moment. Taking advantage of this, the ladies appreciate his challenge and set up Ben to see if he can manage to make the beguiling blonde in the gray dress fall head over heels in love with him. Knowing full well that it's her job to drive Ben away for her column, the ladies feel confident that they've secretly stacked the deck in their favor but cocky Ben takes the bet and the bait and luckily the two clique romantically, leaving for dinner each unaware of the other person's agenda.



Since there's an element of game-playing involved in the dating scene before you add these wildly dubious yet fun plot contrivances into the mix anyway, the movie has you smiling along in recognition at the heightened world of cinematic Manhattan that couldn't be further from reality but once Hudson's Andie becomes the off-balanced, unpredictable one woman rollercoaster near the end of a Knicks game on their second date, we're as surprised and entertained by her ease to move in and out of hysterics as Ben is irritated and thoroughly confused.



Soon the movie is filled with improvisational scenes and outrageous yet mind-blowingly funny exaggerations of standard situational battles of the sexes. And admittedly while Andie and Ben's behavior never feels authentic, due to the farcical and screwball style format that's evident in their rhyming alliteration friendlyy AA and BB names of "if A then B," we know it's not supposed to be and the sheer pleasure of the movie is in watching the two play off each other with comedic abandon.



Unfortunately and despite the stunning oft-copied and coveted yellow gown worn by Kate Hudson in a pivotal sequence and a few cute moments in the lukewarm "aww, they actually like each other" predictable meet-the-parents scenario, the movie derails significantly in its overly long final act. When they inevitably learn the truth about the lies or rather their respective bets, it culminates in a nails on the blackboard sounding rendition of "You're So Vain" as a couple's fight is accompanied by Marvin Hamlisch on piano.

And in this cringe worthy, fast-forward necessary scene in particular, I'm always brought out of entertained viewer mode and shoved back into critic mode, wondering why at least the last twenty to thirty minutes weren't reworked to be if not on par than at least strong enough to follow the hilarity of the beginning since these scenes couldn't have tested well with audiences.



However, there's no going back to reshoot the unfortunate segments six years later and Kate and Matthew's movie reunion of Fool's Gold make the flaws of Days feel brilliant even when Days launches into rom-com auto-pilot mode complete with Andie penning a Never Been Kissed like confessional and Ben chasing Andie down in traffic Wedding Planner style.



Without any footage of the actors discussing their work or inclusion of the two on a commentary track, the Deluxe Edition doesn't feel very deluxe. As a person who owned the previously released DVD, I can attest that it is indeed a step up visually and likewise accentuates the cinematographer's decision to make everything look unbelievably beautiful, sometimes to overly air-brushed, photo-shopped, or magazine like effect in a candy colored MGM in the '50s vibe. However, comparatively, the picture difference isn't that great and moreover the Blu-ray includes a satisfactory yet again unbalanced soundtrack that distributes the background noise and dialogue unevenly throughout.



While HD extras have been added, the new inclusions are thin all around, containing commentary with director Donald Petrie and a few short featurettes about the making of the movie including its background as a comedic book version as the opposite of The Rules, deleted scenes, and a pointless extra about "Why the Sexes Battle" where scientists are brought in basically to sell the movie in terms of medical or historical authenticity analyzing behavior patterns. Overall, as a guilty pleasure favorite, it's one I'd definitely recommend but one in which you can similarly way the pros and cons before making the upgrade to Blu-ray... unless like Andie and Ben, you're fine with taking your chances on a bet.

Kate Hudson



Matthew McConaughey



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