Lightweight romantic comedies were a major staple of the American movie industry throughout most of the 20th century until the 1970s, when two significant things happened to push them out of prominence. First, Hollywood became more anti-establishment and made a larger number of darkly cynical films; there was less room for inevitably happy couples. Additionally, the relaxed sexual standards of the 70s and afterwards resulted in many movies about relationships revolving more around the bedroom than around conflicting personalities and frothy repartee. Someone Like You is an almost weightless effort that nevertheless brings the genre back into focus by featuring an original take on the quirks of relationships, near-perfect casting, and extremely likeable performances.
Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) is a talent booker for a TV talk show, but she’s also a closet sociological researcher. Her area of specialization: men, and why they’re such… jerks. Her studies were triggered when Ray Brown (Greg Kinnear), the show’s executive producer, unexpectedly dumped her. He was the prototypical Nice Guy until the final nanosecond of their relationship. Now she’s alone and apartment-less – she’d given notice on her flat after Ray decided they should move in together. Desperate, Jane moves in with womanizing co-worker Eddie Alden (Hugh Jackman) until she can figure out men and get her life back on track. Mired in her anguish, Jane runs across a New York Times story on cattle behaviorism. Apparently, once a bull mates with a cow he always wants to move on to a fresh partner. Jane figures that the principle applies to men as well, dubbing it her "New Cow Theory". Soon she’s using a pen name to write a magazine column on the topic, much to Eddie’s alternate amusement and chagrin.
The plot follows Romantic Comedy 101 conventions – since Jane and Eddie are thrown together under adverse circumstances and couldn’t be more different, naturally they’ll end up together, right? The only question becomes how originally the story will arrive at this familiar conclusion. But this is where the film shines, for director Tony Goldwyn (A Walk On The Moon) keeps a buoyant touch throughout that fits the lightweight plot setup, even using periodic chapter headings like "The Establishment of Intimacy" to poke fun at the way relationships progress. But while the tone is light, much of Jane’s "New Cow" theory makes sense, and Goldwyn allows the film to explore its various theorems and corollaries. He’s not above throwing in a wry wrinkle or two – there’s a scene where Jane is bemoaning Ray’s leaving her, and as she says the word "Ray" a nearby car accident screeches on the soundtrack, it’s a subliminal use of sound almost worthy of Welles.
The pitch-perfect cast follows suit. As Ray, Greg Kinnear embodies a guy who’s nowhere near as nice as he thinks he is – he’s too wrapped up in crafting what he needs to say next to notice how his actions hurt people. Marisa Tomei is properly cynical and reactionary as Jane’s friend Liz, and Ellen Barkin portrays talk show host Diane Roberts as a mix of Martha Stewart and Attila the Hun: she’s a smiling predator. But the real star turns here belong to Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman and both excel. Judd perfectly captures Jane’s dazed but wondrous glow of a woman in love as well as her desolation after being spurned.Jackman, a native Australian last seen as Wolverine in X-Men, totally nails Eddie’s sarcastic New York worldview on women and dating. He’s constantly amazed that the apparently endless stream of beauties he dates puts up with him.
The script is adapted from Laura Zigman’s "Animal Husbandry", an acerbic novel that eventually spiraled into bitterness and ended not with a bang, but a whimper. Elizabeth Chandler’s screenplay shaves away much of the book’s cynicism in favor of more coy bemusement. This lighter tone works well until the film’s ending, when there’s a big confrontation/oration that didn’t exist in the original story. It’s a scene that lumbers out of nowhere and elbows its way onstage, totally at odds with everything that’s preceded it.But by this point the film has built up enough puppy-like good will that this oafish move is relatively easy to forgive.
The overall result is as light as cotton candy and just about as substantial. Like the carnival confection, you might not recall it a day later, but while it lasts Someone Like You is a sweet and entertaining treat that never forgets that the most important sex organ is – the brain.
– Bob Aulert