The only pleasure one gets from What’s Your Number? comes from fantasizing about the film that exists in its shadows, the smart and fun film it could have been, with a star as brilliant as Anna Faris, but which it fails radically at becoming. Watching Faris’s reactions to the bizarre material that makes up this film, like when she replies to a bad joke with a simple but poignant “oh,” is like witnessing someone with a weird sense of humor make a string of jokes that no one’s even catching. The film doesn’t appear to get her, which is its loss.
Faris is in the usual male role in a premarital comedy, of the guy who can’t get it together, but is also saddled with having reached her maximum number of sex partners (20, according to a woman’s magazine) so that she’s convinced that if she sleeps with one more person she’ll be branded Unmarriable. So she decides to revisit exes to find Mr. Right so that she won’t step over that line. What?! This is a film in which most women claim to have been with six people in their lives, max, and the “slut” has been with 20, while a male character who’s with a new woman every week claims a number closer to 300. Is this progress? I would have liked to witness the What’s Your Number? planning session in which they came up with “the number,” and decided that 20 is apparently the “safe slut” zone. Also, why are people their age making lists and counting their numbers? Doesn’t that end when you become more concerned with quality than quantity?
There’s a definite concern with quantity over quality here, but low quantity. Quality, in sex or jokes, never seems to have been an issue. This is a clumsy, disturbingly unsexy comedy about sex; I can’t be the only one who finds it a turnoff to hear “vagina” and “balls” used as jokes (as if those words are funny in and of themselves) more than five times in a film. Faris is adorable and Chris Evans is built like a He-Man skater, but the only sexy person in the film is Andy Samberg, who plays Gerry Perry the Puppeteer, a flashback nightmare of the worst lay imaginable. I was rooting for Gerry Perry to make a comeback, hoping it would be like a mystery in which the least likely outcome is the inevitable solution. But no, the plot is graphed out as expected within the first 10 minutes, and then plays out that way. The only surprise comes when the perfect man (too perfect, obviously) asks Faris how dinner in Milan and breakfast in Paris sounds, and she says, not to him, but under her breath, “Starchy.” The only surprise is that there’s one character who seems to be paying attention to the actual words said in this seemingly algorithm-created rom com.
Who is this film created for: men or women? Most of the scenes involving women are about weddings. And women like movies about weddings, so it must be for women. But it’s also about a woman who just wants to drink beer and eat pizza and slob around with an unambitious and equally immature neighbor. It defines true love as the freedom for a woman to act like a dude, and the most romantic moment is a bizarre, intimate scene of a game of strip one-on-one basketball played in an empty Boston Garden under bright stadium lights. This feels like a very specific and weird fantasy, pornography for a Boston sports fan who’s afraid of sex. But what sports fans are going to watch this movie? And what Faris fans are going to watch it?
What’s great about Faris is that she’s a female female impersonator. She was a smart brunette who molded herself through plastic surgery to be an ideal cute, blond Hollywood leading lady. Her every gesture is a joke. Every time she pluckily, clunkily walks across a room (doing an elbows-up march since she’s seemingly still not used to those beach-ball silicone boobs getting in the way), and every time she talks, tripping slightly over that collagen lower-lip pout, these are like jokes on our expectations of what a woman in film should be. Or of what a woman should be. When a film like The House Bunny makes this the theme, it’s sublime. But watching a smart woman playing a ditz playing a woman wanting to be a dude just feels off the rails.