She’s Out of My League is testament to the power of low expectations. To put it in romantic comedy terms, imagine you’re a chronically single woman whose friends, family and telegenic dog all pity you. Then your sassy friend sets you up on a date with a man who she says isn’t that great of a guy but is worth a shot, because you’ve been single for, like, ever. And even though you begin the evening dreading the awkward silences and unfunny jokes that are no doubt in store, you find that he’s actually quite bearable and that you might even consider seeing him again. That’s She’s Out of My League, which tries to be a romantic comedy without being a chick flick, and in the process manages to turn some of the more predictable rom com tropes on their heads.
Kirk did not go to college, has a dead end job, drives a beat-up car and has a motley crew of friends who you’ve already met in several other movies (the unjustifiably over-confident one, the good-looking one who thinks he knows everything about chicks, and the tubby idealistic one who’s the only one in a functional romantic relationship). Kirk’s been pining for his ex, Marnie, who dumped him two years ago but who’s been somewhat adopted by his parents and spends most of her time hanging around Kirk’s house rubbing her new boyfriend in his face. Since they broke up, Kirk’s been on four dates because, his friends tell him, he’s a “moodle,” a man-poodle. “Women want to take you out for a walk, feed you, cuddle you. But no one wants to fuck the moodle.” Kirk is skinny and uncoordinated, with a nasal voice and bad posture. He snorts when he laughs. In other words, he is your typical romantic comedy loser.
Enter Molly, who is hot. Throughout the film, she’s described as “fucking hot,” “insanely hot” and “too hot.” When we first meet her, we see her black patent Louboutins stepping out of a cab and watch as, in slow motion, men turn their heads, gapingly tap their buddies and lose the ability to speak coherently. We watch as Kirk sees her for the first time, the way men always see hot women: from afar, in slo-mo, while sparkly music plays. Then we get to watch as the airport security guy, Kirk’s boss, tries to sexually harass her, until Kirk intervenes and lets her through to get on her flight. She leaves her phone at security, and to thank Kirk for returning it to her, she invites him to a party she’s throwing. Molly, you see, is a party planner (not to be confused with a wedding planner, a publicist, a gossip columnist or any of the other acceptable jobs for leading women in romantic comedies). Her business partner and friend Patty is – cliché alert! – a feisty brunette who curses a lot.
Molly and Kirk go on some dates, each one of which is analyzed disbelievingly by Kirk’s friends, who can’t imagine that a girl that hot could possibly be attracted to Kirk. During one of these postmortems, one of Kirk’s friends maps out the rating system he’s devised for ranking men and women and determining who can date whom. Kirk, he says, gets a five for looks. Add half a point because he’s funny and half a point because he’s a nice guy, but subtract a point for his car, and he’s still a five. Molly, he says, having never met her, knowing nothing about her personality or mode of transportation, and basing his judgment solely on her looks, is “a hard ten.” And according to the ratings system, you can’t date more than two points above your own ranking; Kirk dating Molly somehow throws the universe off balance.
This wisdom is received by Kirk and by his friends -and is meant to be received by the audience – in the same was that Charlotte York’s Rules-esque dating advice was meant to be received by Sex and the City viewers: as mostly ridiculous, with the sneaking suspicion it’s at least partly true. That’s certainly how Kirk receives it. The dramatic climax of the film is when Kirk, having been warned by Molly’s gorgeous, successful ex-boyfriend that Molly has “a defect” is frustrated to discover that said “defect” is laughably minor; she’s still virtually perfect, and still way out of his league. When he tells Molly about his relief, she’s appalled. “Low self-esteem?” she yells, “Take off a point. Comparing yourself to every person who walks into the room? Take off another point. Hoping I’d have some defect you could ‘work with?’ Take off whatever’s left.” Eventually, thanks to the combined effort their respective friends, Kirk and Molly get a chance to reunite, and then, because this is a romantic comedy, they make out in the middle of the airport, in front of Kirk’s whole family.
Like I said, the movie does a good job of subverting a few tropes of the genre. Toward the end of the movie, Kirk is on a plane, headed on vacation with his whole family, including Marnie, who he’s dating again. Realizing that he’s made a mistake and would rather be on the ground with Molly, he gives an impassioned speech to his family: he loves them, but they’ve never supported him, and he wants to be with a woman who does. After flipping them all the bird, he goes to run off the plane. In true rom com fashion, the stewardess tries to get him to sit down. What’s different about this attempted huge romantic gesture, however, is that the stewardess threatens Kirk with a $25,000 fine if he doesn’t sit down. So, he’s forced to sit back down next to Marnie and the rest of his family, in a spectacularly awkward moment that offers some welcome relief for the cynics who’d been expecting the expected. Similarly, it’s nice to see a movie where a man is pursued by a woman – it’s Molly who asks Kirk out, Molly who initiates sex, and Molly who’s told at the end of the film, “if you want him, you’ve gotta go get him.” And she does.
There’s also some interesting commentary on women and beauty. The movie dares to posit the radical idea – radical for rom coms, anyway – that being an incredibly beautiful woman can actually be a burden. From the attempted sexual harassment to the feeling of being put on an impossible pedestal, it’s clear that Molly struggles with the fact that men tend to lose the ability to act like adults in her presence. In these moments, however, the movie can’t resist fishing for laughs by making fun of Marnie, who’s apparently way less hot than Molly, thereby reinforcing the idea that the hot women are still superior to all the others. It’s a mixed message at best, and it’s unfortunately not the only one the film sends. When Kirk decides, in the end, to go after Molly, it’s not because he’s realized that the whole idea of ranking people according to their appearance and status in life is bullshit; he simply realizes that he’s been ranking himself too harshly. Molly is still a ten, Marnie is still “a three, arguably a two,” but Kirk has realized that he’s not the five he thought he was.
She’s Out of My League does not pass the Bechdel test; for some reason, even though Molly and Patty are business partners, we never hear them talk about business, only about boys. It also doesn’t pass the Chloe Angyal witty banter test. I love movies with well-scripted banter, that’s why I love Richard Curtis rom coms like Notting Hill. We’re told on numerous occasions that Kirk is funny, but we never actually hear him being funny. We see Molly laughing a lot in date montages with guitar-pop soundtracks, but very few of the very few laughs in this movie are provided by Kirk. Finally, there’s a particularly problematic moment that occurs when Molly and Kirk are making out for the first time. Things are getting a little heated, and he asks, “Can we stop for two seconds?” “No,” she grins, and keeps on kissing him. Consent: You only need to get it from women.
So She’s Out of My League is not that romantic, and not that comedic. That’s a four. But it attempts to play with some tired rom com clichés: add two points. And it seems to be trying for a positive message about what’s really important in a relationship: add a point. But it kind of fails at that: Take off a point. So I guess, if I had to rate it… Ah, forget it. Rankings are bullshit anyway.