Based on Laura Zigman's successful novel "Animal Husbandry," "Someone Like You" is yet another entry in the rash of contemporary women's comedies that are aggressively smart and sassy and packed with a thousand knowing winks about just how tough it is to be a modern babe in this world. And how men just don't get it. And, oh, by the way, how it's OK to cry. Since it's a scientific fact -- or a biblical one, or something -- that we women are all circular thinkers, it helps us to have these ideas reinforced again and again, lest they slip out of the tiny heart-shaped holes that line our brains.
That must be why, in "Someone Like You," the lead character's theory about the way men, like bulls, are always attracted to "new cows" is explained in detail twice, and then further alluded to until you're fit to bust an udder. As Tammy Wynette once sang, sometimes it's hard to be a woman -- although not even she had to sit through movies like these.
The tricky thing about "Someone Like You" is that its leads, Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman, seem to know what they're doing throughout the movie -- they're so relaxed and instinctive that they make it seem like less of a con than it is. Even so, though, there's not much going on between them or in the space around them; these are decent, even charming, performances that fade away long before they should.
Judd is Jane Goodale (if you haven't yet gotten the allusion, don't worry, you will), a pretty, energetic talent booker for a big New York talk show (hosted by preternaturally urbane and glossy go-getter Ellen Barkin, who struts on-screen like a giant, freshly waxed leg). Jane meets the man of her dreams, Ray (Greg Kinnear, who files yet another nice-guy-gone-wrong performance -- a waste of his considerable talents), only to have him break her heart. That happens, of course, after she's given up her apartment in New York, where good real estate generally has to be pried from a body's cold, dead fingers.
Left with nowhere to go, she's forced to move in with her boorish, womanizing co-worker Eddie (Jackman), and the two become reluctant friends. Meanwhile, Jane's magazine editor friend Liz (Marisa Tomei, who's dazzling even in this crummy role -- what else is new?) persuades her to write a regular sex column under a pseudonym. The column, a place for Jane to espouse her wacky comparisons between male humans and their animal counterparts (cows, chimps and so forth), becomes wildly successful, but Jane's heart, alas, is still broken.
Judd, who knew how to lay it on enjoyably thick in the pop revenge melodrama "Double Jeopardy," is turning out to be a game and confident actress; she's a mighty-mite, with a knowing, no-bullshit quality that's instantly appealing. And in an early scene, where she dissolves into tears after Ray dumps her, I was touched by the way she made those tears feel natural, casual -- spontaneous the way the cleanest tears are. The problem is that she's called on to cry again and again in the picture. It's as if director Tony Goldwyn knew he had a good thing going and decided, stupidly, to jerk it.
And Jackman, the hairy, broodily romantic Wolverine in last year's magnificent "X-Men," is perfectly cast as the weaselly guy who just might not be so bad after all. He's likable as a cad and a cutie, but he's at his very best when he's playing up the role of wicked playboy. When he shows up at work with a hickey the size of Montana on his neck and Judd quizzes him about it, he zings back, "I bit myself shaving." He's a snarky, deadpan dreamboat.
So why don't the two of them add up? In several ways, "Someone Like You" (its script was adapted by Elizabeth Chandler) almost makes it. Judd gets a laugh when she opens the case to her languishing diaphragm and blows the cornstarch off -- it's like the dust of the ages being brushed from an ancient relic. That's the kind of goofy, offhand joke that plenty of girls (myself included) get a kick out of.
But the rest of the time "Someone Like You" hammers so hard at its cutesy premise of animal-mating-ritual theories that it fairly numbs you. Modern babes do have it tough, and they do cry. But you can sum most of that up, beautifully, with the unspoken joke of the dusty diaphragm. That leaves a whole lot of film time to say even smarter, funnier things -- time that "Someone Like You" mostly wastes.