The convoluted premise of the new Kate Hudson vehicle How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Paramount) is both Doris Day old-fashioned and Sex and the City up-to-date. It's totally implausible, and yet it gets at something unnervingly real: the way that people can blow a budding relationship by being too honest with each other.
Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a quirky how-to columnist for a high-end fashion and lifestyle magazine. In the first act, her colleague and pal Michelle (Kathryn Hahn) gets dropped by her boyfriend: It turns out she'd slept with him right after they met and then burst into tears and said, "I love you" after their first coupling. Their boss (Bebe Neuwirth), a demonic synthesis of Anna Wintour and Helen Gurley Brown, wants her to write about the breakup, but Michelle would rather throw herself out the window. So Andie comes to the rescue. She announces she'll write a how not to get the guy column. She'll pick up a guy and intentionally do everything wrong: She'll be so needy and overbearing that he'll have to dump her in less than 10 days.
What Andie doesn't know is that the hunk she ends up with, Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey), has an ulterior motive, too. He's a beer-and-sneakers advertising guy who wants to land a big diamond account, and he has taken a bet from his boss (Robert Klein) to prove that he does too understand what women want. Why, he can make one fall in love with him in—you guessed it—10 days.
The plot sounds laborious and silly, but there's a lot of ingenuity in it. You have a woman forcing herself to be clingy and invasive and a man forcing himself to put up with it: Neither is emotionally honest, and neither behaves the way the other expects. Andie keeps raising the stakes, but Benjamin just won't drop her—not even when she calls him Benny-Boo and buys him a yappy little dog and drapes pink doilies over everything and fills his medicine cabinet with feminine-hygiene products and leaves 16 messages on his answering machine in about 15 minutes and, oh yes, nicknames his penis. And this is before she picks up the phone and calls his mother. This is the how-to book The Rules in reverse—a compendium of dating disasters for our mirth and edification. Classic screwball comedies have arisen out of much less.
The movie is only OK, though. It gets hobbled out of the starting gate because Andie doesn't go to bed with Benjamin right away; and if she doesn't sleep with him and then start in at once with the "I love you" stuff, the experiment doesn't have the naughty zing you've been primed to expect. Most guys will put up with anything before sex. The filmmakers must have been afraid of losing their mainstream audience if they made their heroine deceitful and promiscuous, so they end up dynamiting their premise. In interviews, the director, Donald Petrie, has said he objected to the first script he read—in which the couple did go to bed on their first date—on the grounds that it would send the wrong message to his 12-year-old daughter. When you set out to make a sex comedy for your 12-year-old daughter—well, if you're any kind of dad, it probably won't be very sexy.
And I bet Petrie is a great dad.
But he's a spineless director. From moment to moment, the movie is hyper-perky and false, and the music, by David Newman, makes everything cutesy-poo—it kills the momentum and keeps all the dark vibes at bay. The movie doesn't build and get crazier: It gets moister and more conventional, like the chick flicks it emulates. (There's a self-homage within the movie: Andie drags Benjamin to a Chick Flick Festival featuring Sleepless in Seattle, which was also produced by Lynda Obst.) The picture is entertaining, and it will probably be a big hit, but it's an opportunity wasted. It's what happens when you make a movie called How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days but live in terror of losing your audience.
What finally puts it over is its leading lady: The movie is practically sewn onto her, like that knockout yellow Dior gown (designed by two Vera Wang refugees) she wears in the posters and the movie's climax. Hudson was wonderful as a groupie in Almost Famous (2000), with a golden-aureole sweetness. But she was idealized and a little soft—and that softness might be intrinsic. She doesn't seem quite broken in by life. The good news is that she finally gets to show some comic spunk. She does dingy-blonde shtick in the manner of her mom, Goldie Hawn, but in quotation marks: She imitates Hawn and sends her up at the same time, and the combination makes her levitate. She and McConaughey are terrific together: His slightly wooden earnestness matches well with her wiggly femininity. There's a magical scene when she arrives at his apartment with pictures of their future children made from Photoshop composites of their faces. As she flips the pages of their "family album," she makes little cooing sounds that elicit strangled groans of horror. They're a lovely screwball couple: They make beautifully discordant music together.