Asked why she’s pursuing gangly underachiever Kirk (Jay Baruchel), brainy bombshell Molly (Alice Eve) admits that part of the appeal lies in how safe the relationship is. On some level, she knows that their disparities in physical beauty, professional success, and social grace make Kirk a predictable and eager-to-please companion. She just as well might be discussing the audience’s relationship to She’s Out of My League, an uninspired romantic comedy/male self-esteem pep-talk that seems to be yearning for viewer affection despite its all-around mediocrity. Then again, perhaps Molly’s description doesn’t fit the film at all. After all, she also claims to like Kirk because he makes her laugh.
The humor, such as it were, in Sean Anders and John Morris’s script comes less from the central couple themselves than the Apatow-lite bro-banter among Kirk’s coterie of male friends, all employed as TSA agents at the Pittsburgh airport. (You gotta love it when a film this bland makes an attempt to locate itself in a “specific” city, as if air-lifting the entire proceedings to Miami or San Diego would somehow mutate its narrative DNA.) After Kirk and Eve meet cute when he returns the iPhone she left in an airport security bin, his friends spend the rest of the film goggle-eyed at his luck and insisting the relationship between so mismatched a pair will never work out. While the married Devon (Nate Torrence) offers support, Jack (Mike Vogel) and Stainer (T.J. Miller) bluntly explain the highly ornate system of romantic hierarchy to Kirk in scenes whose would-be comic idiosyncrasy has long since hardened into formula. You’ll know this brand of humor when you see it—Character A (emphatic): “Dude, you can’t do that! It’s against the rule whose absurd specificity is meant to show how deluded my confidence about relationships is!” Character B (blank-faced and skeptical): “Um, well, are you sure?” Character A: “Dude, yes!”—and it doesn’t feel any fresher here. Toss in a few gross-outs that feel plucked from the Farrelly brothers’ trash bin (an embarrassing pre-ejaculation here, a testicle-shaving mishap there), and you more or less know what you’re getting yourself into.
It’s a shame, because Baruchel and Eve have some charming moments when his nervous energy meshes with her kind-eyed warmth. Even still, you never really buy the idea of Kirk and Molly as anything more than a fantasy. She’s Out of My League feels less concerned with exploring the comedy of romantic power dynamics than in soothing the (presumably straight male) viewer with a message of self-love. It doesn’t matter if she’s wealthier, hotter, and smarter than you, fellas! Under that bed hair, rumpled shirt, and crippling insecurity, they’ll see your kind heart and self-deprecating wit!
Far be it from me to deny anybody the warm bath of cinematic ego-stroking. But did the film have to perfume its phallocentric message with the acrid whiff of misogyny? One only needs to look at how the film treats the respective protagonists’ exes to note the difference. Molly’s former flame Cam (Geoff Stults) may be a gel-tipped doofus, but his efforts to win her back from Kirk remains genial at best. Kirk’s ex Marnie (Lindsay Sloane), on the other hand, starts out vacuous and cruel before nose-diving into a grasping, wild-eyed harridan once she sees Kirk with Molly together. The unpleasant glee that director Jim Field Smith and the writers take in humiliating her is matched only by the unthinking justification for doing so slipped in throughout the film: She’s such a bitch, right guys? For a film that prods women to look beyond the surface and see the inner beauty of the neighborhood nerd, it’s all the more dispiriting—if not that surprising—to see women themselves given little of the same courtesy.