The Feministing Rom Com Review: She’s Out of My League

shes_out_of_my_league.jpgShe’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.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • Anna

    and here is a review from our community site a few days ago!:

  • Athenia

    Yeah, women can be sexual assertive…only if they’re hot.

  • TB

    this review was so much more entertaining — and insightful — than the movie itself could possibly be. two thumbs up.

  • Dawn.

    Entertaining and insightful review, Chloe. I was vaguely interested in seeing this, because slacker/stoner comedies are my big guilty pleasure and this stars a lot of actors from that genre.
    It’s not surprising this movie tried to subvert rom com tropes and semi-failed. It seems to be a trend lately – movies attempting something “radical” and kind-of-but-not-really succeeding.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I must admit I find extremely attractive women intimidating because I find it hard to believe that they would want to have anything to do with me. Naturally this speaks more about me than it ever does about them.
    And often my response in doing so is textbook sour grapes—I never really wanted her anyway, or so I rationalize.

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I’ve seen this movie, and while I don’t disagree with the overall assessment of it’s quality, I would take issue with some slight misrepresentations of the plot.
    1) the bitchy friend doesn’t set Molly up with Kirk because she’s been single so long. Molly decides to date him on her own because she thinks a guy so far removed from her previous boyfriend (hunky and successful) won’t hurt her.
    2) I’m pretty sure Molly is described as a “hard ten” after the friend describing her went to the hockey game. He might not be her bff, but he knew something more about her than the fact that she’s gorgeous.
    Other than that, I agree with your assessment. But, as RomCom goes, it’s nothing new in sexism. I’d disagree about it not being funny. Most of the scenes with Kirk interacting with his strange family were quite funny.

  • LivingOutLoud

    “Kirk did not go to college, has a dead end job, drives a beat-up car…”
    I’m not big on pulling out the “you’re so privileged, I can’t believe you just said that,” card, because I believe that everyone’s experiences are different, and therefore so are our opinions and outlooks. At the same time, I think it’s critical to remember that not everyone has had the same access to or same (positive) experience with – insert privilege here – and therefore it is something we need to be aware of, especially in feminist analysis.
    That being said, I didn’t realize that not going to college makes you a loser. There are many different forms of education, and not everyone has the access, desire or need to go through a formal education system. You just reinforced the idea that in order to have value in today’s society, you need to have gone to college, drive an amazing car, and have the best job ever.
    While I did go to college, I’ve had plenty of dead end jobs, and even a bout or two without a running vehicle. Yet somehow I managed along just fine.
    Thanks for letting us know how valuable partners should be portrayed in cinema from now on.

  • Libbierator

    Athenia and TB: Agreed.
    Dawn: Totally. Scifi and fantasy are my happy places, so I felt the same way about Cameron’s Avatar. Namely, I thought it could have made amazing points – I mean, it’s the SAME STORY (up to a point) as what’s happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo RIGHT NOW – and it really could have, and tried to, but then it failed. Miserably.
    So disappointing!
    Comrade Kevin: Well, okay, why do you think they want nothing to do with you? Because you and society perceive them as attractive? Maybe they’re just as insecure and lonely as you are. Maybe she is not a “hot creature” or something separate from you, but actually a person, with doubts and hopes and dreams and fears and strengths and good days and bad days just like you. Maybe she’s a person, and would appreciate being treated as such.

  • dianita

    As soon as I saw the trailer I was disgusted with this movie; especially the part when a guy tells his wife that she is hot but that compared to the hot blonde main character, she is a “cow” or something like that. WTF? Also it reinforces the stereotype that all men get “stupid” and “incoherent” when they see a “hawt” girl; bc of course, they just can’t help themselves. I really wish people would not go and see this movie and contribute $$ to it!!

  • Honeybee

    I don’t think he’s saying he doesn’t consider them a person at all, more that he feels that beautiful women are almost “better then him” and thus wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.
    I think women do this too with hot guys. I sure as heck have felt this way at least.

  • a.k.a. Ninapendamaishi

    I don’t think you need to be so hard on Camrade Kevin or interpret his thought process as objectifying women. I say this because really good-looking guys typically intimate the hell out of me, too.

  • genericjanedoe

    Great analysis…I agree with a lot of your thoughts. I do applaud the film’s presence of things we don’t usually see, but I also recognize that it contains a lot of tired elements.
    On the community discussion I pointed out how I like that Kirk was a male character presented with what is supposed to be every man’s dream (sleeping with a highly attractive woman) and he doesn’t mindlessly jump at the chance…Instead, he’s dealing with body image issues of his own, which is very infrequently presented in mainstream media, especially by the main male character.
    AND THANK YOU for pointing out the consent problem with their initial sexual experience. I remembered thinking that when I saw it, but I totally forgot about that incident outside of the film. If the roles had been reversed, people would have read it as a rape scene, but instead it turned out as this hilarious situation in which Kirk makes a buffoon of himself. That whole situation just left me feeling really uncomfortable and the fact that Molly should “take it as a compliment” and Kirk had to apologize???!! SHEESH!

  • MzFitz

    I think this is art of the review because these are the characteristics that the movie uses to portray “what a loser” this guy is. I don’t see the inclusion of this information as a reinforcement of of stereotypes, but as a character description that sets up the plot. This review wouldn’t make sense if we weren’t told why she is “out of his league.”

  • Toongrrl

    Everybody can relate to the title at some point. Though it sounds too predictable.

  • Sarah!

    I agree with LivingOutLoud somewhat, but I believe the authors intention was to say- that this man can fail in all the arenas that our society reinforces as what makes an attractive man (there are many), but the woman is put on a rating scale based entirely on her physical appearance. The fact that she has other qualities are seen as irrelevant. The difference is that the man can manipulate what is supposed to make him less/more attractive- his car, his job, his education. When it comes to the woman- she doesn’t have the opportunity to earn or manipulate points on a scale- she’s either good looking or not, a 10 or a 2 (or some variation of these). So as to say, that a man can be considered socially unattractive by all of societies standards and still, with confidence, have the ability to get what he wants (a beautiful woman, go figure), but for his female counterpart, their only currency is the way that they look. So if they are stunningly beautiful, they will attract men because they are stunningly beautiful, not because they are successful or intelligent, but because they are beautiful. It’s a one shot deal.

  • Fitz

    The character making that statement is clearly shown as an idiot and meant to be repulsive.

  • femteacher

    I am so tired of this shit, where the show or movie features an attractive woman and an unattractive male. Knocked Up, this film, the show King of Queens, the “DVD on TV” personalities on FX, etc. I am tired of watching females being portrayed as sexually attractive and not males. The only male sexuality we get is for comedic purposes, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I think this is why so many guys hate Twilight and New Moon…a sexy male lead? TWO sexy male leads? The horror! For all the things we can say about Twilight as feminists, at least male sexuality is celebrated and not ridiculed. While this development is good for male actors who are talented but not traditionally attractive, this is a devastating development for female actors who are talented but not traditionally attractive. Can you imagine this movie the other way around? The main character is a funny but hopeless, homely woman whose experiences are the basis of a major film? Of course not, herein lies the sexism.

  • Jessica Lee

    Based on the commercials, I feel like this movie looks problematic not only because it promotes the “ugly” man with the “hot” woman stereotype, but it sets a standard of an “unattractive” or “loser” guy. If I saw Jay Baruchel (that is his name, right?) on the street, I’d think he was really cute and out of my league. Just as we need to watch out what beauty standards Hollywood sets for women, we should check out what standards are set for men as well.

  • April

    Thank you for giving away all the spoilers. I just may have paid money to see it if I didn’t know how it ended– a big mistake I continually make with rom-coms, even though every rom-com ending is identical.
    Interesting aside- I rarely feel intimidated around good looking guys; however, I feel immensely intimidated around really intelligent and/or articulate guys, and can’t speak coherently around them half the time. It’s shocked me to no end that I’ve managed to “snag” my husband, who I always thought would never like me because I was out of his league, intelligence-wise. I think Comrade Kevin is right. It says more about me than my husband that I couldn’t talk to him at first, or that I was really intimidated. It was due more to my low self-esteem at the time than any kind of objectifying I was doing to him.

  • ladybeethoven

    It would be really nice to see a “He’s Out Of My League,” wouldn’t it?
    I’m getting really sick of how movies like this pretend to be all “empowering” to the “losers” who aren’t popular with the opposite sex, but really all they do is end up enforcing a different kind of privilege – male privilege. Because the “loser” is always a man, and the “hottie” is always a woman, and so ultimately the message is that WOMEN need to give the so-called “losers” more of a chance. Basically, we’re a bunch of picky bitches who need to be taken down a few pegs.
    It’s ironic, because I think women already “get” this message that they need to date down a few “ratings” enough. I can’t tell you how many times I’m told that if I’m not finding any guys I like, the answer is to lower my standards until I do, instead of trying a different dating pool or waiting until somebody I prefer DOES show up. Women are constantly told that a men showing affection in us is enough reason for us to “give him a chance,” regardless of our own feelings. (As an almost-20-year-old who doesn’t have a boyfriend, I’ve learned I have to be very vigilant when out with certain female friends who are convinced I’m somehow miserable because I’ve been single for so long and have taken it upon themselves to “fix my dating problems” – i.e., force guys upon me whom I have no interest in as a lesson in how I’m “too picky.”)
    Meanwhile, even “loser” guys like the protagonist in this movie are given a sense of entitlement to “hot” women, and act like it’s demeaning for them to ever lower their standards, no matter how ridiculous they are. The message by society is that men do the choosing, women accept whatever they’re given. Geek guys deserve hot women, but geek girls don’t even deserve geek guys.
    So, to the people who make movies like this: Wanna be REALLY transgressive? Wanna really make a statement? Make the WOMAN the “loser” and the MAN the “hot” one who learns to “settle” for her. Because believe me, women do not need to hear this message. Guys probably could, though.

  • open_sketch

    Or just have nobody “settle”, get rid of the whole idea entirely. A person is a good fit with you or not; there is no universal standard. There is no rating system. There is no leagues to be out of.

  • AMM

    I’m a man, and I’m pretty sick of this trope, too. Partly because it’s been done to death, but also because I know what it’s like to feel like a “loser” (even though I’m doing better than 99% of the people on the planet), and maybe because I’m just too old to be able to satisfy myself with the fantasy that a “hot 10 chick” will drop into my lap like a winning lottery ticket.
    If they wanted to subvert the trope, maybe they could have had the guy learning that he isn’t intrinsicly a “loser” and to get on with his life. For bonus points, maybe they could have had him not Get The Girl. (Granted, it would still be all about him.) Or they could have written the movie from the woman’s perspective. (And I don’t mean from a male fantasy of the woman’s perspective.) Maybe I’m just not the kind of person Hollywood wants seeing their movies, but I would like to actually see a movie that showed me something I didn’t know or hadn’t experienced.
    I was also turned off by the trailers I saw on TV which show them in the bedroom with Him fully dressed and Her in just her skimpy underwear. I don’t know how the scene was played in the movie, but in the trailer, it came across as woman as commodity — either for the male star or for all the twenty-something males who are supposed to fantasize being him.

  • Gnatalby

    I don’t know, I think the culture is full of plenty of messages that women need to bust their asses to snag a man who will not be interested in them, it’s just not phrased in terms of leagues and is instead made a matter of “men just don’t like commitment like the ladies do.”

  • daytrippinariel

    Why is the “hard 10″ girl always blonde? If we’re going to keep making these movies can’t we have a little diversity of what’s hot? The concept of the movie–a woman that has a good job and is attractive finds a dorky guy to be attractive etc.–almost wouldn’t bother me if the “hot” women were more diverse. Why not a cute rocker girl or a cute tomboy type or a woman of color? These girls always look like playboy bunny types. If we could show all different kinds of women are hot and call them “tens” and then depict them loving men for their personalities then really it wouldn’t be so bad. At least it would show that women aren’t just interested in men for money or status which shows men they don’t have to be douche bags to get women. But with such a narrow scope of female hotness it’s hard to find these movies enjoyable or something to relate to.