… if he’s not calling you

DAVID SIMON: I like to tell everybody that the real subject of this film is Baltimore. Its particular set of social problems drive the romantic conflict here. Baltimore is a medium-sized city, as East Coast cities go. It’s a stand-in for every place like it, these ports whose economies were just hammered by the collapse of the New Deal. Even so, there’s an appealing human scale to the place. To a certain extent, that old-school solidarity still characterizes the social life of the city, if not the culture of local institutions. In Baltimore, everyone is one or two degrees removed from everyone else, more or less. You have these characters’ social entanglements interfering with weaker professional or institutional ties—but which tie really is weaker? Are people more committed to their partner or to their institution? And that uncertainty breeds a natural suspicion. It’s a culture where people live with a fundamental lack of trust in the goodness of other human beings. So it’s not like he’s not calling because he isn’t into you—it’s not about you! It’s not about anybody, specifically. You never know who’s talking to whom, or what anyone is up to. It’s about this idea that the personal needs of an individual are not worth as much of a time investment as they used to be.

… if he’s not asking you out

DS: There’s this lazy impulse in scripted drama to reduce relationships to dichotomies. That’s what the title plays on, this idea that it’s even possible to assess whether or not one is “into” you in a pat way. The nice guy/bad boy cliché is really a fiction. That’s not to say that there aren’t sweethearts and dumbfucks dating in Baltimore, but I’m not interested in them. That’s been done before, and done a lot better. What you see in He’s Just Not That Into You is a desire to break out of that Manichaean framework. Some reviewers have suggested that the film’s argument is that there are no good guys and bad boys anymore. That also misses the point. The point is to illustrate the social pressures that have created male reticence.

… if he’s sleeping with someone else

DS: It’s been really fun to gauge the critical reaction to this film. A lot of reviewers seem surprised that the characters are so venal—like, oh, enjoyed it, tremendous cast, but isn’t it kind of dark? Like, isn’t this a cynical vision of Baltimore? And I’ll grant you that, but I don’t see that as a flaw here. It’s supposed to make you feel guilty! It’s not a fault in the narrative, but a certain set of expectations from the audience. In America, everyone always wants to know who the bad guy is. What makes He’s Just Not That Into You seem so distinct by comparison is that it helps you understand where these cheats are coming from. The movie doesn’t always depict marriage or the workplace with great verisimilitude, but this is still a work of fiction. The larger moral has to be clear. I don’t want to give away what I think that moral is, because I want people to argue about it, but there you go.

… if he doesn’t want to marry you

DS: You can decide for yourself whether or not the title cards should be there. I’m not sure I’m fully decided about them. He’s Just Not That Into You is really about subtext. There’s lots going on under the surface. The characters talk incessantly about whether or not they should get married, so what are they not talking about? Bingo—they’re not talking about the fact that the local media and advertising industry is collapsing, or that no one is paying any attention to the changing demography of Baltimore. There’s a humor and a pathos in that omission. I think it adds a desperately needed levity to a few of the more cynical exchanges. It’s almost like Greek tragedy, that in their blindness to their surrounding community these characters are digging each other’s graves. Where’s the collective guilt here? It’s completely absent, and that’s what should distress you, not the resolution of the crisis in their relationship.

… if he’s married

DS: The source material has eleven chapters, and this film tells that same story with five overarching themes. At a certain point, you’re just adding story on top of story. You don’t want any narrative arc to be redundant. In fact, you’ll notice that there’s a brief reference to undocumented workers in the scene where they’re building the townhouse. There had been talks about adding a sixth subplot, about immigration in Baltimore, which would have required more background research. But it should be clear what its message would have been. He’s Just Not That Into You is on the side of those who have been marginalized in and by this city. I mean, it’s pretty unabashedly pro-labor. We’re not big fans of the young couples renovating old townhouses. We’re on the side of the contractors fixing the places. But that’s Baltimore, man. If it’s gritty or whatever, that’s fine. Take it or leave it. That’s how we do.