If there’s one sociological pearl to be farmed from the pseudo self-help gimmickry of How to Seduce Difficult Women, it’s that heterosexual relationship stereotypes have more or less smoothed to homogeneity across demographics—or so we must assume, since now even small indie releases are peddling the same gender-role prejudice as chick flicks from major studios. Though How to Seduce Difficult Women never lives up to the smug, manipulative chauvinism of its title (just as the recent adaptation of He’s Just Not That Into You failed to deliver the same facial splash of icy water to naïve girls as its source material), it still embodies the disturbingly “modern” sexual idealism that promises kinky rewards and cuddly concessions respectively to men and women bold enough to assert their selfishness in pursuit of “instinctual” posturing (men control, women swoon).
The movie’s main character, a Frenchman named Philippe (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), is a love guru—and the author of the titular publication—conducting a workshop for clueless males, and his attempts to correct each of his protégés’ pick-up follies form the film’s fractured narrative. One by one, through a series of limp, unfunny vignettes, the students metamorphose from mostly sweet but shy social imbeciles to uninhibited forces of virility (it seems that while they all have problems approaching women, none are slouches, or even slightly nervous, in the bedroom): A bashful businessman successfully approaches a woman in a department store for a one-night stand; a horny, loquacious immigrant with broken English finally manages to show the girl of his dreams what a sweetheart he can be; and a middle-aged divorcee finds happiness after having anonymous sex with a transsexual—a tired twist on the “love the one you’re with” cliché that lacked potency four decades ago in Carl Reiner’s Where’s Poppa?.
A brief subplot involving Philippe’s own cluttered love life is treated as an ironic punchline, but it’s interspersed throughout other characters’ orgasmic rendezvous so clumsily we aren’t certain if writer-director Richard Temtchine means to criticize his protagonist’s persistent womanizing or depict it as proof of his expertise in distaff matters. It would all be an exercise in mediocre silliness if there weren’t plenty of legitimate manuals out there for both sexes with even more predatory interpretations of romantic perfection: A brief walk through a local Barnes and Noble (or any internet community devoted to relationship advice) effortlessly castrates the movie’s ambiguous satirical aspirations.