It’s a close call, given the lousiness and the scolding tone of much of her material, but Anna Faris survives What’s Your Number? with eccentric comic charm intact. Dumb film; smart comedian.
Audiences take to Faris for many reasons. She’s fearless. She has no vanity. She doesn’t look like every other pretty-but-funny prototype in Hollywood. She can take a pratfall. She can seem simultaneously dim and bright, a beat behind the action while mysteriously a step ahead of it, which is how most of us feel at any given moment, but she knows how to get laughs with that combination.
As executive producer, Faris helped develop the Boston-set romantic comedy from the book 20 Times a Lady, which operates from a defeatist premise I reject utterly, but we’ll get to that in a second. It’s implied that the recently laid-off marketing department flunky, Ally, the Faris character, has been dumped 19 straight times in her life. Chronically between unsatisfying relationships, she approaches the imminent marriage of her younger sister (Ari Graynor) with a touch of envy.
A chance encounter with a magazine article sends Ally into a low-grade panic. If she’s had twice the national average (10.5) of sexual partners, does that mean she’s un-marryable?
Thus begins Ally’s film-long rummage through her roster of exes. With the help of the frequently naked, sensitive, hunky Lothario across the hall (Chris Evans), she begins a search for Mr. Right, presuming he must’ve come and gone without her realizing it (Andy Samberg, Anthony Mackie and Chris Pratt have cameos in that lineup). She’ll do anything to avoid that dreaded No. 20.
There is real potential in the notion of a malleable, insecure protagonist who has tried to be someone different to suit each new unsuitable relationship. But in strange ways, the What’s Your Number? screenplay, plenty coarse without being plentifully witty, gives Faris all the room she needs while shackling Ally, her character, to anachronistic Doris Day-era sexual attitudes.
I’m sorry, and I know I’m a guy, but who cares how many people so-and-so has slept with? To have the entire movie hung up on this issue, only to dismiss it as stupid in the end, feels all wrong. The humiliation games played on Anna are more depressing than spirited, and old standbys such as the awkward, drunken toast in front of the family (Blythe Danner plays Ally’s hypercritical mother) fall flat. And would Ally, even if she comes from money, really fly around the country visiting smarmy ex-boyfriends just to see if they’ve improved?
Under the workmanlike direction of Mark Mylod, Faris keeps this fits-and-starts affair from sputtering completely. I’ll close with one example that won’t sound amusing but it is. At one point, Ally’s hair extensions catch fire at an outdoor restaurant and she tosses them into a nearby fountain, just in time for her date to not know what’s going on. Then, owing to residual smoke in the air, she lets out a little cough. A quick one. But her timing is brilliant. And after I laughed—I remember I did, because it’d been a while—I did what I generally disdain at movie screenings. Out loud, I said, “Finally!”