Anna Faris has been called this generation’s Lucille Ball: She’s pretty, smart, has impeccable timing and isn’t afraid to cast dignity aside in pursuit of a hardy laugh.
Her new film “What’s Your Number?” is a pet project she both stars in and produced. It’s a chance to show just how audacious she can be, a chance to step up, a chance to shine. And it stinks on ice.
Faris plays Ally, an average 20-something living on her own in Boston. Riding home on the subway after losing her job, she reads in a magazine that the average woman has had ten lovers in her lifetime, and if you reach 20, you will probably never find true love.
Acting on this hair-brained tidbit, she counts up all her past lovers only to find she’s reached 19, one shy of eternal spinsterhood.
Seeking to avoid the dreaded 20th, she tracks down her exes in the hope that one of them will be marriage material. She enlists the help of playboy neighbor Colin (Chris Evans), whose family of cops somehow qualifies him to track down exes.
Ally’s travels take her to Miami for a pap smear to meet an old lover (Thomas Lennon) who is now a gynecologist; to Washington, D.C. to track an old boyfriend (Anthony Mackie) from her college days when she campaigned for George W. Bush, (yes, Ally may well be the first Republican rom-com protagonist); and stalks a formerly-fat ex in Beacon Hill (real-life husband Chris Pratt) who has slimmed down enough to marry a superhot architect.
In other words, Ally is pathetic. Spurred into action by questionable notions of how many lovers are appropriate, she is unemployed but somehow manages to jet around to meet men she barely knows so she won’t miss out on her chance at true happiness. This isn’t a woman who needs to fall in love; this is a woman who needs counseling.
In classic screwball comedies, women were smart and independent beings who had room in their life for romance without making it the overriding priority. But in 21st century movies like “What’s Your Number?” a woman isn’t complete until she has a man, happily putting her life on hold and making an ass of herself to find Mr. Right.
Comparing Faris to Lucille Ball might be a touch premature, if only because the 35-year-old Faris hasn’t yet achieved a comparable body of work. She distinguished herself among lame jokes in the physically punishing “Scary Movie” series, and blithely carried “House Bunny,” her last starring vehicle in 2008. But since then, she has been mired in an industry clearly bemused by funny ladies, taking bland supporting roles in movies like “Take Me Home Tonight” and “Yogi Bear.”
But Faris has earned her accolades, which is why “What’s Your Number?” feels particularly disappointing.
Not that it’s all her fault — the screenplay by Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden is virtually laugh-free, with both jokes and plot points telecast well beforehand. (You’ll guess the ending in the first three minutes.) Chris Evans works well with a thinly drawn character, but everyone struggles under director Mark Mylod’s uninspired hand.
A veteran of shows like “Entourage,” Mylod doesn’t have much big-screen experience outside of Sacha Baron Cohen’s pre-“Borat” feature “Ali G Indahouse.” In his first studio movie, Mylod couldn’t play it any safer, employing strictly conventional shot selection and editing to cover the action while demonstrating an uneven hand with his talented cast, leaving Faris struggling, abandoned and rudderless as she reels off joke after deadening joke.
Conventional in the worst possible way, “What’s Your Number?” is anti-woman, antediluvian and, worst of all, about as funny as a public hanging. If you’re a Faris fan and you want to stay one, do yourself (and her) a favor and stay home.