I always thought there was a superstition in the movie industry that a movie with a question mark in its title is doomed for failure. That’s why the great question-titled movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) are purposefully grammatically wrong while flops like Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009) went for accuracy and paid the price. That’s a wonderful story except for the fact that only Roger Rabbit is actually written without punctuation. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? should and do have question marks as do O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), all successes. The supposed curse didn’t affect the box office for Who’s Harry Crumb? (1989), Shall We Dance? (1996), or the Are We There Yet? series. Hell, even Did You Hear About the Morgans? made more than it cost and Dude, Where’s My Car? (2001) brought in nearly six times as much as its production budget.
In fact, it is harder to find movies that avoided the question mark title.* The TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has no question mark and the superstitious panic apparently gripped Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967), Brian Gibson’s What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993) and James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know (2010), all of which are written with no punctuation (Mervyn LeRoy’s Quo Vadis (1951) has no question mark, but it shouldn’t as it’s in Latin). True, of all the movies listed above, none was a bigger hit than the grammaticless Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but its success is evened out by the commercial failure of How Do You Know (What’s Love Got to Do with It more or less broke even and financial information on Who’s That Knocking is hard to come by but the production budget was so small I’m sure it’s a wash). Even a movie like What the Bleep Do We Know!? (2004) which has two pieces of punctuation, just thumbing its nose at the gods, turned a meager profit. Just last year there was a movie released that was simply titled “?” (2011). What is my point with all this? Well, these were the things I was amusing myself with while I was watching What’s Your Number? which has a terrible script, an idiotic lead character, a romance so unlikely that it insults working synapses all over the world and a question mark in its title.
What’s Your Number? stars Anna Faris as a woman who reads an article in a magazine that says that on average women sleep with 10.5 men in their lifetime. Faris has already blown past that and she’s worried that if she gets that number up too high, she’ll never find love. She is apparently concerned that men won’t love her because she’s had too many partners and not because she’s uninteresting and annoying. She is convinced that she has to keep her roster of bedmates where it is so she figures her future husband must be among the ones she’s already slept with. Because she has to search through nearly two decades of sexual activity, she enlists her neighbor, played by Chris Evans, who’s an expert in background checks, to find her past flings. I’ve seen much better romantic comedies with thinner premises than that, but what distinguishes What’s Your Number? as sensationally bad is its complete failure to take us anywhere. What’s Your Number? feels less than half-baked. It feels quarter-baked. If feels like someone took out the chicken and turned on the oven and then took a nap.
I’d like to announce that I like Anna Faris. I think she has a very easy comic ability and I would love to see her served in a better movie. Even in What’s Your Number? she’s able to elevate the material with her sweet open charm; she has an enviable ability to be ditzy while retaining a certain amount of dignity. She’s especially good here as an accidental tamborinist. I don’t feel like I’m entering into the realm of hyperbole when I say she has some of the talents of Marilyn Monroe. But no one, including Monroe, could have saved what Faris is forced into in What’s Your Number? which contains one of the most bizarre courtship scenes I have ever seen. Faris has been given a dress that is about six sizes too small for her and she’s embarrassed by it. She comes home after a humiliating date to find that Evans has been waiting for her with music and food. At this point, she and Evans are pretending just to be friends yet they go on a date together to an empty Boston Garden** to play a private game of strip Horse. Faris is still wearing the too-small dress and jiggling and busting out all over the place. What woman doesn’t change out of that dress? She had already gone home. She didn’t think to say, “I’d love to go to the Garden with you, good buddy, but I’m in a dress that’s from Baby Gap, do you mind if I change real quick?” And strip Horse? Between friends? It’s just a paper-thin excuse to get two attractive people naked on a basketball court, I’m not in anyway against that, it’s just that I’ve seen porno scenes with more nuances.
It would be conveinient to blame all of What’s Your Number?’s problems on its question mark, but it’s sunk first and foremost by its script, which doesn’t think much of Faris or Evans and thinks even less of you, the viewer. It’s like they finished the first draft and then went with it. And I don’t mean that everyone had copies of the first draft, but that they all huddled over the bar napkin the script was originally written on during shooting. Nothing is explored. Situations for potential comedy are set up and dropped immediately and the things Faris has to say are painful. “I feel like everyone else is moving on with their lives,” she complains while she’s on a quest to track down all the men from her past. How can a script go through development, rewrites, preproduction, storyboarding, production, and editing without anyone saying, “Wait, that’s a really stupid thing for her to say at that moment.” I mean, there was no one during audio dubbing who just raised their hand and said “You know, Anna, don’t bother ADRing that line; it’s incredibly stupid and we’re going to cut it because of how unbelievably dumb it is.” The movie insists that Faris say things that contradict themselves. The whole impetus behind her search through her former men is her realization that people can change but she refuses to believe that about the caddish Evans so she drops him. I got my hopes up that Evans might have dodged a bullet there, but no, they end up together, sadly.
*I’m sure there’s a lengthy list of movies that changed their titles from a question to a statement during the scriptwriting stage to avoid the curse and not for nothing but What’s Your Number? pulled the opposite. It’s based on a book called 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak so the filmmakers decided to go with a question mark and got what they deserved.
**It’s called something else now but that’s horseshit and I don’t recognize it.