While her films haven’t always been winners, Anna Faris has never once let me down. She often salvages some small amount of pleasure in unwatchable films with great supporting turns (My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Hot Chick), and she can single-handedly anchor otherwise marginal films simply by being placed front and centre (Scary Movies 2-4, The House Bunny). She is a wonderful actress that more often than not gets let down by her material. This level of dedication to her craft as a comedic actress makes What’s Your Number? a really pleasant surprise, since Faris finally has a film worthy of her talents. It’s pretty standard stuff as far as rom-coms go, but at least the filmmakers know how to put her to great use.
After reading a Marie Claire article about how the average woman has 10.5 sexual partners over the course of their life, Boston area marketing washout Ally (Faris) freaks out because she has slept with 19. After drunkenly bedding the boss that just fired her (Joel McHale) to make number 20, Ally embarks on a mission of personal salvation by giving all of her former exes a second look. She is aided in her quest by the cute lothario across the hall (Chris Evans, often shirtless, quite often only barely wearing a towel), a struggling musician with familial ties to the Boston Police Department that help him spy on everyone around him.
I’ve always considered Faris to be the anti-Sandra Bullock, and director Mark Mylod plays to that very notion. Ally isn’t cute or endearing, but she is very human and likable. Together Faris and Mylod create a character that people want to see succeed even though she has rarely done much of anything right. Faris doesn’t play the character as perfect and simply misunderstood. Ally is awkward and loutish, but in a great way. The scenes where Faris is sparring with Evans (who is a great foil for her character) and her exes (some of whom include her real life husband Chris Pratt, Andy Samberg, Anthony Mackie, and Martin Freeman) are where the film roars to comedic life.
It isn’t a perfect film and there are a couple of things that put What’s Your Number? shy of being an outright classic. Most of the film’s momentum is lost around the end of the second act when the film decides that it wants to be nothing more than a very basic and standard romantic comedy. There is nothing necessarily wrong with a film wanting to be paint-by-numbers if it is done this well, but the transition is particularly jarring in light of how unsentimental the first half of the film manages to be. A major subplot involving the wedding of Ally’s sister (Ari Graynor) and an uneasy alliance between her divorced parents (Blythe Danner and Ed Begley Jr.) also doesn’t add very much to the film, but the actors involved are all great for the material.
There are some jokes in the film about tweeting and facebooking that will probably age the film badly in several years, but for now they are some of the best jokes ever made on the subject of social networking. It also has two great gags that improve on other films that have tried them this year with less success. It involves a puppet in a sex scene that outdoes the one in The Beaver and a Lionel Richie reference better than the one in Rio. The standard nature of the whole enterprise might make some cineastes turn up their noses, but for pure laughs the number of hits to misses in this film is quite high.
Side note: As someone who lived in the Boston area for a lot of their life, I am pleased to see a film that takes place there where there are no mentions of the mob, thievery, child abuse, or the Boston Red Sox. I was beginning to think no one would make such a film ever again. What’s Your Number? has proved me delightfully wrong.
Cast: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ed Begley Jr.
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Top image: A scene from What’s Your Number?. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.