There's a surprising touch of ingenuity to How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days that somehow manages to keep the film, about two people forcing themselves to act unpleasant, from being as annoying as they are.
It's a relatively simple trick, really, a matter of constantly reminding the audience that they're in on the joke. Thus, there are constant winking asides from stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, little to-themselves moments, with no one other than the camera watching, when they let their guard down and act the way they would act naturally (which, in their case, is quite endearingly). They're small moments, almost toss-asides, but they make all the difference.
Yet another riff on the old battle-of-the-sexes theme, How To at least comes up with a novel jump-off point: What happens when two people in a relationship are both trying to use each other, in a situation where one's success depends on the other's failure? In other words, for one person to get what he or she wants, the other has to cry "uncle," and both are determined to avoid that at all costs. The result is an imbroglio with hardly the greatest comic potential, but enough to get by - provided the actors are appealing enough to gain our sympathies in the first place, game enough to risk losing it and talented enough not to.
Hudson is Andie Anderson, a New York-based columnist for Composure magazine who aspires to greater things than the fluffy how-to pieces she's forced to write. She wants to write about politics, war, things that matter; her editor (Bebe Neuwirth, slumming but enjoyable) insists she concentrate on dating, dieting and makeup. Forced to come up with an idea, Andie takes her cue from a romantically challenged friend who specializes in scaring men off and proposes a piece on how to get rid of a guy. Her editor loves it; go out and find a guy, Andie's told, get him to fall for you, then become so overbearing and obnoxious that he can't run away fast enough. And do it all in 10 days.
Meanwhile, McConaughey's Benjamin Barry is just a few office buildings away facing a similar problem with identical time constraints. A hotshot ad writer, he's trying to persuade his skeptical boss (Robert Klein) to let him handle a big new jewelry account. Insisting he knows more about women than his boss realizes, Ben gets him to agree to a deal. If he can find a woman and get her to fall in love with him in 10 days, Ben will get the account.
Conveniently, both Ben and Andie end up in the same bar after work, their eyes alight on one another, and the clocks start ticking. She has to get him to fall for her, then turn repulsive enough to chase him away; he has to get her to love him, and remain so at least until the party's over in 10 days.
Much of the humor in How To is of the men-and-women-are-from-different-planets variety; Andie is vivacious and charming at first (this is Kate Hudson, after all, the daughter of Goldie Hawn, so that part comes pretty easy), but soon turns into the worst sort of clinging vine, calling Ben (and Ben's body parts) by sickeningly cute nicknames, casually ignoring his desperate attempts to watch his beloved Knicks, even forcing him to endure Celine Dion.
Ben, managing to grit his teeth and endure it all, refuses to give in - much to Andie's astonishment. No matter how much she ups the pain factor - guys, you can guess the sort of things she does - Ben insists on being a good sport. (Fortunately, she never tries anything as draconian as, say, not bathing or pursuing Ben with a sharpened razor. That would make for a far blacker comedy than this.)
When they're not with each other, of course, or when the other's back is turned, they revert to form, rolling their eyes, complaining to friends and otherwise venting their frustrations.
The movie reverts to the cliched and true in the end, and matters come to a head during a ridiculous singing duet that reeks of screenwriters desperately seeking a way to wrap things up; they should have tried harder. And while Andie and Ben make great sparring partners (especially given that they don't even realize they're sparring with each other), there never seems to be much in the way of chemistry between them.
Yet, McConaughey and (especially) Hudson manage to make it all work, maintaining their likability even in situations where they inevitably end up acting like jerks. When that balancing act works, which it does here about half the time, How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days proves an unlikely charmer.
How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days
Starring Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey
Directed by Donald Petrie
Released by Paramount
Rated PG-13 (some sex-related material)
Time 110 minutes