Face it: you're dumped

'He's Just Not into You', the new comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, picks up where 'Sex and the City' left off. Gill Pringle reports

Second to Barack Obama's election-winning mantra "Yes We Can", the line "He's Just Not That into You" imparted an equally powerful message to today's singletons struggling to find a soulmate. Based on a single throwaway line from Sex and the City, "He's Just Not That into You" spawned a self-help bestseller of the same name and, now, a film featuring Hollywood's biggest A-listers.

Assembling a cast of such costly egos can't have been easy for Drew Barrymore, whose Flower Films produced this ambitious project – featuring Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly and Ben Affleck among others – on a reported budget of $25m.

If modern movie marketing is based on the premise of reaching multiple audience demographics, then He's Just Not That into You targets anyone who's ever had a broken heart – which is presumably everyone.

You'd be hard pressed to assemble more broken hearts than those belonging to the fragile females starring in this comedy based on Sex and the City scriptwriters Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo's dating guide.

Jennifer Aniston, 39, has suffered the most painfully public heartbreak, although twice-divorced Drew Barrymore, 33, runs a close second, followed by Ginnifer Goodwin, 30, who recently split up with fiancé Chris Klein. Even newlywed Scarlett Johansson, 24, isn't immune, reveals producer Nancy Juvonen: "A lot of the press questions I've heard to the actors are along the lines of 'pretend you're normal and you had a heartbreak', and I kept thinking, 'They are normal and they think they're normal, at least. There's a high school quality to Hollywood where it's sort of like you date within your school a lot of times. But all these problems were relatable to everybody – even the most gorgeous. Even Scarlett has had that little heart broken."

The film entwines the stories of a group of interconnected, Baltimore-based twenty and thirty-somethings, diversely navigating between first encounter to marital misery, and every conceivable stop along the way.

"But they're all fictional," Juvonen insists, deflecting any suggestion that the cast of sensitive stars might have anything in common with their less than shiny happy screen alter-egos who variously indulge in home-wrecking, infidelity, romantic failings and plain old stupidity. "None of them are actually a real story other than the idea of the story. I think the thing we relied on the most was ourselves. I mean, we've had our hearts broken and we've broken hearts and I think you've gotta have to have both to get life."

That said, screenwriter Abby Kohn admits: "We had a dinner at my house and seven ladies came over. The only thing you had to bring was your most embarrassing and painful stories, and a lot of wine, to get those stories flowing."

Under the direction of TV veteran Ken Kwapis, who directed much of The Office's US episodes, the film borrows from Sex and the City's technique of inserting witty cameos of "real people" discussing their relationship woes.

Among the cast, Jennifer Aniston was most notably absent when her co-stars gathered to discuss the film at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The stars reluctantly traded snippets of their own romantic history, Johansson noting: "People are complicated and I don't know necessarily if there's one particular aspect of men in general that I don't understand other than why do they have nipples? Something to do with the X chromosome, right? I probably overanalyse everything, but usually it comes back to 'If this person is making you crazy; if this person is making you doubt yourself – go get rid of him'. It's good to advise somebody because you need an outside perspective. Sometimes relationships can get very sheltered and they kind of fester in a way, so it's good to just get a perspective."

Based on rom-com's time-tested formula of misread relationship signals, co-producer Barrymore wanted to explore the themes of dating in an age of technology, casting herself in the smaller role of Mary, a woman baffled by the new impositions modern media placed on relationships.

"When I first started dating, it was like the Pony Express. We had to be frickin' patient. And now everything is instantaneous. Where is old-fashioned romance and a little bit of mystery?" says Barrymore.

"Not long ago, we were waiting months at a time for just a letter and now we live in an age where everything is instant gratification. And no guys call any more! It's all text. I'm awkward enough on the phone – I'm awkward answering this question – so, yeah, it's really difficult. So I wanted to discuss this in film because it's so important in our age of Facebook and MySpace and the internet and texting. It's just a new ballgame.

"There's a lot I have to learn about men but there's a lot I've learned. If their behaviour is making you crazy or not feel good or you're trying to decrypt and you're thinking it's The Da Vinci Code, then it's clearly not right. We're so afraid of rejection that we waste immense amounts of life making excuses for ourselves and really it's very simple. We really do know when someone's not really into us, right? But we just don't want to have to deal with it at the time. But I think we're trying to get past mixed messages and expect more from other people and to be smarter."

The writer Greg Behrendt says: "I didn't come into this world hoping to write a relationship book. It all stemmed from an offhanded comment I made to somebody over lunch. Telling a woman that a guy who doesn't call her doesn't like her just seems like common sense."

Ginnifer Goodwin adds: "I misread signs every day and now I get paid to put that on screen."

'He's Just Not That into You' opens in the UK on 6 February

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