starring: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ari Graynor, Blythe Danner, Joel McHale, Chris Pratt, Martin Freeman, Zachary Quinto, Andy Samberg, Thomas Lennon, Ed Begley Jr., Anthony Mackie, Dave Annable
written by: Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden
directed by: Mark Mylod
MPAA: Rated R for sexual content and language
Let’s get one thing straight: Anna Faris is a brilliant comedienne. Whether breaking out as Leslie Nielsen’s young blonde heir apparent in the Scary Movie films, transcending cheesy comedies like Just Friends and The House Bunny with her inspired lunacy, or stealing scenes in prestige films like Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain, she is one of a kind. She has long been regarded as criminally under-appreciated, with publications all the way up to The New Yorker joining her cause. When they profiled her earlier this year, much was made about Faris’ desire to create a more empowered mini-industry of women in comedy within the larger film industry, sort of like what the Judd Apatow gang is to schlubby Jewish guys.
What’s Your Number?, which Faris produced as well as stars in, is supposed to be the first big moment in this new stage of her career, a manifesto to show Hollywood what she’s about and what she’s capable of. However, while Faris was being profiled by major publications to hype her ambitions, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo were quietly working on Bridesmaids, which, of course, turned into one of the biggest blockbusters of the year while simultaneously accomplishing exactly what Faris had been talking about in the press. In short, Wiig snatched Faris’ wig. Not that there can only be one good female-driven comedy per year. But, tragically, What’s Your Number? is leagues below Bridesmaids. It’s not even as funny as Friends With Benefits or No Strings Attached. Faris had a lot to prove with this film, but all it proves is that she’s capable of carrying a lamely conventional romantic comedy.
She stars as Ally Darling (ugh, I know), a down-on-her-luck Boston woman who makes the profound mistake of reading Marie Claire. While sifting through its many pages of quizzes and questionnaires, she comes across an article warning that if a woman has more than 20 sexual partners, her chances of ever getting married decrease by something like 80% (a young woman behind me literally gasped when this statistic was read). She initially thinks that 20 sounds like a relatively low number (which come on, it totally is), and upon tallying up her own conquests, discovers that she’s slept with 19 men. But when she discovers that her number is twice as high as any of her friends (who are these women?), she resolves that she will not sleep with another man until she’s certain he’s The One, because he will be her 20th.
But then she immediately gets drunk and accidentally makes her ex-boss (Joel McHale) #20, so she panics and decides that she’ll have to marry one of the men she’s already slept with, so as to avoid crossing this completely arbitrary and meaningless number. To aid her in this task, she consults her man-whore neighbor, Colin (Chris Evans), who happens to have a flair for private investigating. She gradually begins getting back in touch with each of the men she’s slept with, hoping that one of them will turn out to be worth marrying. But of course she doesn’t see that Colin has been there all along, last-minute realization, race against time, etc etc etc. And who will be her date to the inevitable final-act wedding of her sister (Ari Graynor)? Her sister, who is named DAISY DARLING.
I really, really wish I could say nicer things about this movie, but I just can’t. It is thoroughly mediocre. And while this reflects poorly on Faris, she still gives a solid performance. It is actually one of her most well-rounded roles yet; this is one of the first times she has been called upon to play a recognizably human female character, as opposed to a comedic caricature. And she does bring her own uniquely offbeat sensibilities and timing to even the most clichéd of Ally’s mishaps. Sadly, the film doesn’t give her nearly enough opportunities to do what she does best — be funny! Only one bit, in which she attempts to maintain the faux-British identity she’d used with an English ex (Martin Freeman) but discovers her fake accent wandering the more she drinks, gives her a fitting showcase for her talents.
This also should have a showcase for the many talented actors cast as Ally’s array of exes, but most of them are wasted. The few bright spots include McHale’s fearlessly gross performance as Ally’s #20, and Chris Pratt (Faris’ real-life husband) scoring laughs in a running gag as Disgusting Donald, a formerly-obese ex who is now handsome and engaged. But somehow it’s Chris Evans, displaying his seldom-seen comedic side, who walks away with the movie. He gives a devilish, confident performance as Ally’s rakish neighbor-turned-paramour. And he also has the decency to perform the majority of his scenes in various stages of undress, so that’s a pearl-clutching bonus. Ari Graynor does what she can with the character of DAISY DARLING (ugh), and Blythe Danner plays the exact same WASPy mother she did as Will’s mom on Will & Grace (“My goodness Grace, that’s a thick stubble!”). It’s seriously identical, right down to the wardrobe. Still, she does it well, and I’ll take her over Holland Taylor any day.
There is nothing empowering or progressive about What’s Your Number? Yes, it is an R-rated female-driven comedy, but it fails to do anything fresh with its fitfully raunchy humor. If anything, it is doomed by its own conservatism. It is a quintessentially regressive story about a single girl and her quest for a man — and not just any man, but The One. Ally’s every word and deed rotate around finding this fabled creature. If she cannot, she will feel like a complete failure. And she never changes! She never has that moment where she realizes that maybe she doesn’t need to get married to be complete. In addition to all that bullshit, the film also has elements of slut-shaming in it. Comments are made, and go unchallenged, that the more people you sleep with, the lower your self-esteem must be. Ally is repulsed by her own exploits when she realizes that, compared to her friends, she has had more sexual partners. And, once again, she never changes! She never realizes that the number of people you sleep with has no correlation to whether someone could want to spend their life with you.
I probably wouldn’t be as bothered by this ultra-formulaic, limply unfunny doggerel if it wasn’t for the heightened expectations encouraged by Anna Faris. Her involvement makes the failure of What’s Your Number? all the more disappointing.