For years, bland and pretty actresses have been playing panicked singles with lovable flaws in mainstream romantic comedies that are rarely very romantic and are almost never actually comedic. Meanwhile, the supremely game Anna Faris has been debasing herself with one self-immolatingly hilarious turn after another, from Scary Movie to Smiley Face and The House Bunny. She's made her name by never playing a real romantic lead, by never chasing after that hot guy with the excusable flaw, by never settling for a cute pratfall when she can projectile-spew vomit or pass out, mid-coitus, with Seth Rogen. Still, it seemed inevitable that she'd finally bring all that ditzy anarchy into a rom-com and blow the old formula wide open — and though she finally gets that straight conventional leading role in What's Your Number?, it's so dull that it may be the only film that could leave you wishing for another Scary Movie sequel.
Faris plays thirtysomething Ally Darling, who, on the eve of her sister's wedding, reads an alarmist women's magazine article positing that a women rarely gets married if she sleeps with more than twenty men. Having slept with nineteen, she freaks out and decides to give almost all of her exes another go — which triggers an excuse for some should-be-funnier sketch-comedy bits with exes played by actors including her real-life hubby Chris Pratt, Joel McHale, Zachary Quinto, and, best, Thomas Lennon as a creepy gynecologist. Meanwhile, she discovers a sensitive playboy (Chris Evans) across the hall, whose bare ass and abs are just a cover for his sweet, wounded heart.
Yes, the premise feels twenty years old. It would be fair to call this a retrograde slut-shaming comedy, or to howl about how it's premised on the idiotic idea that the more people a woman sleeps with, the less lovable she becomes. But the film seems built to mock such articles and the gullible women who indulge them: Ally is never more than an idiot driven mad by pseudo-science she should have ignored. The problem is that as a farce, the film is too half-assed to truly lampoon this kind of charticle-based moral panic. Mark Mylod's film obeys all the rules of the gimmick-driven rom-com without subverting a single one.
Worst, unlike everything else Anna Faris has done in her entire career, this film seems married to an idea of likability, as if Ally couldn't possibly have embarked on a single other sexual experience (much less the unapologetic, sex-mad comic montage this film needed) while still keeping the audience on her side. It shows a surprising lack of faith in the moviegoer, and in Faris's fans who have followed her much further, many times before.
Still, Faris sells jokes like she's hawking ShamWows and Snuggies on commission. She can still make dumb jokes work and bad lines click (which includes all her romantic banter with Evans), but the script is so derivative that she's not given anything more than that to do. (Meanwhile, Ari Graynor, perfectly cast as Faris's sister, is wasted.) Chris Evans's main contribution is his exposed abdomen, and while it's stiff, so is the rest of him. He mostly strips down and makes bemused faces at Faris in the kind of part Dermot Mulroney could have played in his prime, and we would all have forgotten by now.
It's just such a shame that Faris's first big rom-com will be so quickly forgotten too. Especially after Bridesmaids proved that Faris's brand of lowbrow slapstick could be so damn funny, this film is just too careful for such a recklessly funny actress.