Hollywood’s pretty demeaning, isn’t it? Look at the films they make specifically for women: romantic comedies. Lighthearted tales depicting – almost exclusively – the courtship process, with indulgent montages of shopping, weeping and flirting. That’s woman stuff? What a load of crap. Hollywood, let's talk for a minute. You know that men date too, right?
No, really. We seek out women who seem like a good match for our personalities and sex drives. We want someone to nuzzle at the end of the night (and yes, also to diddle). And the nuisances that come with the dating scene are just as trying, just as ridiculous, and at least comparably competitive for men as they are for women, especially when other men are competing for their affections. Enter This Means War, a surprisingly good romantic comedy with the fellas in mind. Not just because this romcom has shootouts and explosions, although it has plenty (they didn’t hire Charlie’s Angels director McG for nothing), but because it has a pretty decent handle on the male mindset when it comes to courtship.
Respective The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine play two CIA agents with a brotherly bond. They save each other’s lives, watch TV marathons together and attend family functions side-by-side. Tom Hardy is recently divorced, and misses the comfort and romance of a woman’s affection, so he caves in and joins an online dating service. Chris Pine scoffs but actually supports his friend, and plays the wingman at Hardy’s first date with Reese Witherspoon, ready to jump in and save his ass if the whole thing goes pear-shaped. It doesn’t, and he supportively says, “Good for him.” Healthy, respectful male relationships in a mass-marketed Hollywood production? I’m as surprised as you.
Afterwards, Witherspoon happens into the same video store where Pine was hanging back, and a chance encounter turns Pine into an unintentional competitor for her affections. Before long the coincidence comes to light, but both men are deeply smitten and don’t want to give up on their dreams of romancing this woman. They agree – like many a bro before them – to woo her simultaneously and let the lady decide. And this – like many a bro before them – leads to their downfall, illustrated whimsically by grossly unethical abuses of their CIA resources. They bug her phone, sabotage each other’s dates, shoot each other with tranq darts, and ultimately destroy their friendship because damn it, romantic love matters to them.
This Means War is not a complex film. It is however a somewhat smart one that works as a romantic comedy, an action comedy, and an unusually focused depiction of male courtship issues, albeit in a surface-y, mainstream sort of fashion. It all ends rather easily, in an climax that I bet was test marketed up the yin-yang to decide who Witherspoon should end up with at the end. Frankly, Hardy and Pine’s chemistry is so much stronger together than with Witherspoon that I was genuinely disappointed that they never got a group thing going. I suspect spats will break out on your drive home over whether Witherspoon made the right choice between them. I know that, in the end, were I involved, I would have definitely taken the opposite route. But I respect screenwriters Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg’s dedication to examining her entire decision-making process, which is a relatable jumble of conventional ideals, progressive experimentation, and Seinfeld-esque obsessing over the little pet peeves that drive us from one person’s arms into another. Chris Pine certainly does seem to have little hands.
What I do not respect, and I sincerely hope everyone gives them crap for this, is the screenwriters’ decision to declare The Lady Vanishes “2nd-Tier Hitchcock.” How dare you, sirs. Hitchcock’s 1938 British comedy is an exceptional film with a compelling mystery and a lot to say about Western attitudes towards the encroaching threat of World War II, depicting as it does a train full of disparate characters who ignore a nascent threat to prioritize their own petty needs. (In those regards, of course, it is thematically appropriate.) Witherspoon’s character maddeningly declares that every Hitchcock film made from 1960 onward is actually better than The Lady Vanishes. Really, Reese? Topaz? Tom Hardy’s too good for you. Chris Pine? Maybe not. He was about to buy that remake of The Vanishing, after all.
Where was I? Oh yes, This Means War. It’s pretty good. Charming cast, entertaining action scenes, and a refreshingly masculine take on the romantic comedy genre that pays no disrespect to the conventions upon which it’s based. Traditional romcom audiences will respect its adherence to formula, and everyone else will find something to like in the tiny ways that it diverges from the norm. It’s a winner. Except for that Lady Vanishes thing.