(by Dustin Putman
Anna Faris (2011's "Take Me Home Tonight") shares quite a few similarities with Kristen Wiig, not the least being her razor-sharp comedic prowess and fearlessness at earning laughs. They are very, very funny women, but not one-dimensional; there is a depth and soul behind their eyes that ensures a certain authenticity to the characters they are playing, no matter the part. More than that, Faris, like Wiig, can be relied upon to elevate any film in which she appears simply by gracing the screen with her presence. Would 2000's "Scary Movie," 2005's "Just Friends," or 2008's "The House Bunny" be remotely the same—or as memorable—without her? Would 2010's "Yogi Bear" even be watchable were she not in it? As reliable as Faris is, one special power out of her reach is the ability to turn a dumb movie smart. "What's Your Number?" plays like any other forced, mediocre, plainly predictable romantic comedy, but with one inglorious distinction: it is a woefully inferior variation on the year's—perhaps the decade's—best comedy, the Kristen Wiig-starring "Bridesmaids." Since both films were in production around the same time, neither can be accused of plagiarism. With that said, "What's Your Number?" time and again forces the comparison, and time and again it comes up severely lacking. Unlike "Bridesmaids" filmmaker Paul Feig, director Mark Mylod, a television veteran making his second feature (after 2005's little-seen "The Big White"), hasn't a clue how to hold on a potentially amusing or uncomfortable situation and fulfill its comic promise, cutting away before each scene has had a chance to take flight. It's deeply frustrating, made all the worse since Anna Faris is clearly trying her hardest with substandard material. Article continues below
Thirtyish and single, Ally Darling (Anna Faris) has been a perpetual loser when it comes to love and career. On the same day as little sister Daisy's (Ari Graynor) engagement party, she is abruptly fired from her job at a Boston marketing firm and comes upon a distressing magazine article claiming that women with twenty or more past sexual partners are destined to never find that special someone to settle down with. Shocked to discover her number is nineteen before she gets drunk and wakes up next to her slimy former boss Roger (Joel McHale), Ally makes the decision to become celibate as she aims to track down all of her exes and see if there's one she might have mistakenly let slip away. When researching their whereabouts becomes more difficult than expected, she enlists hunky, man-whorish next-door neighbor Colin Shea (Chris Evans) to help out. With others, Ally and Colin are always pretending to be someone they're not. With each other, they don't have to do that and can be themselves. Any bets on where this is going?
Adapted from Karyn Bosnak's novel "20 Times a Lady" by screenwriters Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, "What's Your Number?" is contrived pretty much from the first frame on. A Hollywood fantasy where the lead heroine goes unemployed for what appears to be months but has no problem affording her apartment and trendy wardrobe, the film fails to treat Ally with the respect and intelligence she deserves. She should be looking for a job or focusing on her passions (she loves making little clay sculptures of people), but instead spends her hours in silly pursuit of all the guys she's slept with—because, you know, there's nothing more important in a woman's life than finding a man to complete her. In doing this, she is revealed as elitist, hypocritical, and a little snooty. When she tracks down one of her partners, a bartender-magician named Dave (Mike Vogel), she instantly dismisses him the moment she sees he's still bartending. "He's in the same place he was nine years ago," Ally reasons, not bothering to cast that same critical gaze on her own out-of-work butt. Another of the men she refers to as Disgusting Donald (Chris Pratt) solely because he used to be overweight. In a flashback between them, however, it is revealed that Ally was heavy-set at the time, too, making her subsequent nickname all the more contradictory and mean-spirited. Then there's rising D.C. politician Tom Piper (Anthony Mackie), who is delighted to bump into Ally so he can make her his beard (he's really gay, you see). Her decision to run in the opposite direction as him is understandable, though it's a shame Tom's sexuality and his need to hide it from the public are treated as punchlines in 2011.
As Ally goes about her mission, even hopping a plane to Miami to see gynecologist Dr. Barrett Ingold (Thomas Lennon), it's obvious that the person she is growing to truly care for is Colin. When they finally admit as much to themselves and each other, they spend the night kissing and cementing their relationship, but not sleeping together. That Ally gets angry at Colin the next day when he fails to give her the phone number of her most eligible ex is an unconvincing manufactured conflict that does our protagonist no favors. Why should she even want this guy's number anymore? Was she just stringing Colin along for no good reason? Meanwhile, the parallels to "Bridesmaids" run rampant as all of this is going on. In the opening scene, Ally wakes up next to boyfriend Rick (Zachary Quinto) and quickly goes to the bathroom to fix herself up and apply make-up before sliding back into bed. There is an increasingly uneasy engagement party toast. Ally makes a fool of herself while drunk. The climax involves singing at a wedding. While each of these set-pieces was carefully and unhurriedly handled in "Bridesmaids," everyone involved taking their time and allowing things to play out as the sheer hilarity rose to unthinkably high crescendos, director Mark Mylod doesn't have the same understanding of comic timing and consistently scurries to the next scene before his last has hit its target. This extends to would-be classic moments such as Ally's run-in with Simon (Martin Freeman), who is under the assumption that she's British until her accent morphs into Cockney before turning Russian, or a finale that would have been far more auspicious and daffily charming had Ally continued to sing her onstage declaration of love for Colin past the first sentence. Alas, these scenes get a quick light laugh and are then over before they've had time to take advantage of their lead actress' ample abilities.
What might have been a miserable experience is at least bettered by the participation of Anna Faris. Her character's actions aren't always logical, but that is the fault of the writers, not the actor. Even when Ally is a little selfish, Faris helps to keep her grounded enough that she is mostly likable. Furthermore, what chuckles the picture has can be wholly attributed to her inspired performance. As Colin, Chris Evans (2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger") is affable, but wasted as an underwritten love interest with few defining characteristics outside of his pecs. Ari Graynor (2010's "Conviction") does what she can as Ally's close sister Daisy, but her natural quirkiness has been shaved off of this vanilla supporting role. As for Blythe Danner (2011's "Paul") as opinionated, overbearing mother Ava, she is handed no favors having to contend with such a shallow shrew of a part.
Viewers who check out "What's Your Number?" will know from the moment Colin shows up (at the three-minute mark) who Ally will be with at the end. It is up to any given formulaic film, then, to make the time getting there as enjoyable as possible. This one isn't as humorous as it wants to be, confusing crassness for wit and heading down multiple dead-ends (what is the point of having Ally get a spray tan before she flies to Miami if nothing is done with it and it's promptly forgotten about thereafter?). Likewise, as the story of a woman trying to find herself, the script pays too much attention to what man she will end up with, leaving all other facets of her life as negligent afterthoughts. This is one case where studio interference is not just suspected, but a certainty. Leave it to Anna Faris to brighten up the gloom around her. It would not be surprising to learn that she ad-libbed a key line late in the proceedings commenting on how ridiculous it is that she has raced around the city searching for Colin when she could have just waited for him at his apartment. Such an instance of self-deprecation is welcome, but arrives too late to be a game-changer. The biggest sin of "What's Your Number?" isn't that it's so ordinary, but that it squanders its chances over and over to break free from the hum-drum antiquities of the genre.