I had nothing to do with the making of What’s Your Number? and yet I feel compelled to apologize to women everywhere for its existence. The movie is the shameful philosophy of women’s magazines slapped onto the big screen as a moral lesson that feels painfully outdated in the 21st century or really anytime after 1960s. It is a cruel, thoughtless picture that wants women to feel ashamed if they’ve slept with more than arbitrary number of men while casting no blame on guys who have racked up countless notches on their bedposts. I can’t fathom why talented comic actors like Anna Faris and Chris Evans would decide to lead such a despicable picture, and not only are they wasted in this movie, only a handful of jokes get through. But nothing can make up for the film’s awful subtext.
Ally (Faris) is having trouble finding the right guy. She’s been fired from her job, her younger sister Daisy (Ari Graynor) is getting married, and Ally’s feeling the pressure to get her life right. Then Marie Claire comes to the rescue when Ally finds an article saying that the average woman sleeps with 10.5 guys in her lifetime (I’ll let you argue what the .5 means). Ally, having slept with 19 guys, can’t believe this irrefutable statistic, but her fears are confirmed when her sister and her sister’s friends all throw in numbers lower than 10 except for the one slutty friend who has a dreaded number of 13. Ally swears she won’t go over 20 and the next man she meets will be the man she marries. Then she gets drunk, sleeps with her awful former boss (Joel McHale) and comes to the conclusion that she must have met the right guy but she passed him by. With the help of her womanizing neighbor Colin (Evans), she starts tracking down her past lovers in the hopes of finding Mr. Right, but then her relationship with Colin begins to “deepen” (read: he likes her sculptures, they have a couple of nice conversations, and go on a fun date).
I don’t necessarily mind that Ally wants to find a husband (although in the movie she’s working harder at finding the right guy than finding a new job). What I mind is that she agrees with the “conventional” wisdom which says she’ll be undesirable if she’s been with “too many” guys. In one of the movie’s many sad attempts at raunchy humor, one of Daisy’s friends comments that no man wants to go where fourteen other penises have been. Only in the past century or so we finally got past the point where a woman could be married even if she wasn’t a virgin. Before that time, men felt that wives were property, and they didn’t want to buy used goods. In 2011, What’s Your Number? generously tells women, “You’re allowed up to 10.5 guys for your entire life. Use them wisely.” It’s the same paternalistic, antiquated belief but dressed in modern clothing.
What’s Your Number? doesn’t want to criticize or satirize this misogynistic philosophy. It wants to celebrate it. Ally’s emotional journey isn’t to say, “Hey! Wait a minute! I’m a responsible adult who uses condoms and I don’t see why I should have to limit the amount of sex I have when my neighbor across the hall can happily bang every woman in Boston.” No, instead Ally proclaims, “I’m a whore! And I’m okay with that!” That’s not me paraphrasing. That’s her big revelation line in the movie.
The movie not only wastes its opportunity to thoughtfully critique modern American social mores, it wastes its lead actors. Anna Faris and Chris Evans have been hilarious and charming before and I’m sure they will be again, but What’s Your Number? made me despise them for a solid 105 minutes. The movie has about five or six really good jokes and none of them come from the lead actors (the best gag in the movie involves Andy Samberg’s character and a puppet). Instead, Faris and Evans subscribe to the Brad Pitt “Always Be Eating” school of acting and struggle to find anything redeeming in their characters, which is like trying to find something redeeming in a gigantic pile of garbage. Ally is neurotic and insecure, Colin is cowardly and childish, and they’re perfect for each other because I can’t think of anyone who could love these people.
I went into What’s Your Number? willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt even though all the trailers strongly indicated I would find the premise disgusting. I have to applaud 20th Century Fox for the truth in their advertising, although the final product is somehow worse than I imagined. The movie feels like someone forgot to put in a laugh track, it squanders the comic talent and affability of its lead actors, but more than anything, it upholds a vile, mean-spirited message all the way down to its final, unfunny joke.