Here’s the premise of the new comedy What’s Your Number?, which is out today: Anna Faris plays a character named Ally Darling whose younger sister Daisy is about to marry the high school boyfriend she’d fallen out of touch with years ago. Ally is still hopelessly single, and it doesn’t help that she read a Marie Claire article claiming that women who have slept with more than 20 men will never nab that coveted husband. Ally has had exactly 20 penises inside her vagina – meaning: any more and it will start to weep, take up knitting, and adopt stray cats. Ack!
(WARNING: Spoilers ahead.)
What’s Your Number? has positioned itself as the heir to the Bridesmaids buzz, capitalizing on the summer blockbuster that proved movies about women can have widespread comic appeal. And Number’s been touted as Anna’s breakout-to-leading-lady role. Though the premise seems anti-feminist and slut-shaming, it implies a character arc that will leave us with an Ally who realizes that defining her love life through gossip magazines is absurd. And that’s what happens, sort of.
If What’s Your Number? is successful at all, it’s mostly because of Anna Faris, who’s fearless and brilliantly funny. She’s rapidly become my very favorite comic actress to watch – a pretty girl who can play up her looks but who also isn’t afraid to exploit herself via physical comedy. And the main woman-on-woman dynamic is refreshing: Ally and Daisy never fight and Ally doesn’t spiral into jealous rages around her sister. Instead, she’s supportive and happy for the marriage Daisy’s about to enter. This is a welcome change from the standard fare of cattiness and resentment that categorizes so many relationships between women on the big screen. (Ahem, Bridesmaids, ahem.)
But that’s where the film’s feminist bent ends. Ally is slut-shamed by her female friends, who all have much lower “numbers” than her 20. And she’s terrified by that damned Marie Claire article, which totally holds water because it was written by a “Harvard scientist.” The only person who doesn’t care how many people Ally has been with is Colin (Chris Evans), her attractive across-the-hall neighbor who happens to be rather promiscuous himself. Ally convinces Colin to help her track down her old boyfriends with the hope that one of them is marriage material – that way she doesn’t have to sleep with anyone new and can remain safely at the magic number 20.
Ally may be promiscuous, but she certainly isn’t presented as a character who particularly enjoys sex. Sex is treated as a means to marriage for the women in this film — while Colin sleeps with lots of girls simply because it’s fun. And Ally’s promiscuity defines her, which is typical of female characters with this trait. Colin is just a good-looking guy who has a lot of sex, but Sex and the City‘s Samantha Jones is a woman who’s notable specifically because she doesn’t want to commit to one partner.
And then there’s the issue of that pesky number. In a profile of Anna Faris that ran in the New Yorker several months ago (and is, unfortunately, not online for non-subscribers), the folks behind the film discussed the trouble they had deciding on the number of partners to give Ally. They wondered if 20 was too many for conservative viewers to stomach, although they had no problem revealing that Colin has slept with hundreds and hundreds of women.
As expected, Ally falls in love with Colin, and through him learns to accept her sexual history. Briefly, the movie makes it okay for women to enjoy casual sex before marriage. However, any steps the film takes in this direction are totally invalidated in the last 30 seconds of the film. Ally and Colin finally consummate their relationship and are enjoying a post-coital cuddle when the phone rings. In a message left on her machine (anachronism alert!), one of Ally’s ex-boyfriends (played by Aziz Ansari) reveals that although the two did hook up one drunken night, they never actually had sex. Never mind that the reasoning behind the Marie Claire article’s number thing is that promiscuity evidences personality and self-esteem issues that may prevent women from entering marriage, the mere fact that Ally passed out drunk before doing it with this guy makes her jump up and down on the bed for joy.
So Anna hasn’t fucked more than 20 men after all, and is still eligible wifeing-up material, complete with her dowry of back issues of Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan.