Things are about to get dicey, kids, so strap in. I may not be qualified to review Think Like a Man. I saw it last weekend, but can't help thinking that my perception was tainted by the audience's reaction--or, more to the point, their behavior.
Though every carefully honed instinct of my liberal-progressive upbringing is working overtime to keep my fingers from typing this, it's with a heavy heart that I must share a horrifying/exhilarating moviegoing experience with a predominantly black audience. You've heard the jokes; you know the stereotypes; you may share the sentiments or rebel against them wholeheartedly. But, Goddammit, sometimes cartoons are real.
Case in point: the two women sitting next to me with the oversized purses and over-oversized, shriek-laughs. Not only did both of them verbally agree with every point Steve Harvey made as the film's unofficial narrator ("Tha's right!" and "MmmmmMMMMMMM-hmm!"), but I swear on my black father's ashes* that when Morris Chestnut appeared on screen, they nearly began having sex with each other. I tried not to look directly at them, but between the screaming, violent floor-stomping, and swatches of faux-alligator purse that kept swinging into my periph, it was hard not to be concerned.
I understand that suggesting movie theatres have special sections for different kinds of audiences is, um, tricky, to say the least. But this isn't about race, it's about decorum. Some might say it's about culture. If that's true, the culture sucks--or at least part of it does.
Here's the thing, though: the crazy people surrounding me and my wife actually made the movie weirdly enjoyable. Whenever one of the film's eight billion storylines began to flag, someone down in front would inevitably holler or whoop, setting off a chain reaction of laughter that screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A. Newman had absolutely no hand in. In fairness, the film does provide a surprising amount of sharp, chuckle-worthy material, mostly delivered by comic superstar Kevin Hart. But because this is a mainstream romantic comedy, there's plenty of dead air, which we must wade through as the characters figure out what we knew by looking at the poster. In such cases, a well-timed "MmmmmMMMMM-hmm" is just what the doctor ordered.
Think Like a Man is a hell of an idea for a movie: Comedian/author Harvey wrote a book a couple years back called Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, which claimed to lay out all the weird head games and insecurities that women must navigate and conquer in order to land an ideal boyfriend/husband. The film acts as both a meta adaptation and marketing tool,** taking place in a world where jilted women (and flamboyant gay men in pink, popped-collar polos, naturally) glom onto the new self-help bible du jour. And because everyone knows that guys prefer sports bars to book stores, the film's core group of six cookie-cutter American douchebags have no idea that their methods have come under attack.
What sets this rom-com apart from the legions of others is its uniformly strong cast and a host of borderline self-aware zingers, delivered without the bubbly in-love-with-being-in-love air-headedness of many a Drew Barrymore flick. Despite playing the beleaguered single mom and the highly successful ice queen, respectively, Regina Hall and Taraji P. Henson give their characters life instead of just breath. Hall breaks away from the Scary Movie franchise's silliness, and Henson adds vulnerability and sparkle to a role that's just dead on the page. Director Tim Story's real strength--aside from helping define his movie's look with the same buttery glow as every Meg Ryan movie from the 90s is giving all of his performers the chance to step out of their comfort zone--or at least the zones in which we've grown comfortable watching them.
As an anime-loving, stoned slacker, Jerry Ferrara comes into his own. Though he played a glorified gopher on Entourage for several seasons, he steps confidently into a more out-front role. And I especially liked seeing Romany Malco set his comedic chops (largely) aside to wear the skin of a smooth player who gets knocked off his own pedestal by love (by the lovely and surprising Meagan Good). I guess the only non-surprise in the cast is Hart, whose character is in the process of getting divorced; his gremlin-on-meth energy and massive inferiority complex provide the film's biggest laughs, and not at the expense of brain cells--his jokes are of the smart-stupid variety, and don't rely too heavily on obnoxious-pouty-black-man shtick.
I should correct something I typed a moment ago: the cast isn't uniformly great, after all. Two stand-outs take a sledge hammer to the film's entertainment value and credibility with their unique brands of awfulness. Gary Owen plays the married, suburban, white guy with all the awkward delivery of an athelete-turned-actor. He stinks up every scene he wanders in to with a charm-free performance that screams "milk moustache".
Then there's the tattooed, girlfriend-beating, walking anger problem known as Chris Brown. Fortunately, his screen time playing a lying, manipulative scum-bag is brief. I can't impartially evaluate his performance because each time he popped up, my mind replaced his head with a blown-up photo of Rihanna's bruised and battered face. She may have forgiven him, but I can't. Ever.
Do you understand why this review is so hard to write? I've spent half of it marveling at the bizarre audience surrounding me, and half praising actors who play against type. What if you decide to skip the theatre and rent this in a few months? What if you have no idea what Entourage is? Or have never considered watching Scary Movie? Chances are, you'd be left with a cool premise that devolves into rom-com mediocrity, made slightly better by strong performances.
So, I guess I can recommend Think Like a Man and not recommend it. If you're going to give the movie a chance, though, you simply must catch this in a cineplex--preferably on a Saturday night. Just bring ear plugs, some plastic sheeting, and a set of re-calibrated expectations as to what constitutes appropriate public behavior.
*Not his black ashes, but the ashes from his black body--which are in my basement...somewhere.
**Harvey's insights, though not necessarily original or true for all men, are interesting and pretty funny.