Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Think I Love My Wife (2007)

Last week on IFC News, Termite Art's own R. Emmet Sweeney wrote an enthusiastic appreciation of Chris Rock's latest effort as writer/director/star, I Think I Love My Wife, proclaiming it "one of the must-see films of the year." As fans of both Chris Rock and R. Emmet Sweeney that's all I need to go pay my money and see the movie. Sadly, I was let down by both of these incredibly talented men. I do agree with Mr. Sweeney that the ending is divine and that I Think's Viagra joke may be the finest ever committed to film. But that's about where our opinions diverge.

To be certain, Rock displays a great deal more filmmaking acumen than he made in his directorial debut, Head of State. I think it shows a great deal of promise from Rock as a filmmaker, particularly if he continues to indulge his experimental side, as in the aforementioned ending. It's also his best performance ever as an actor, in that it's the least Chris Rock-like role he's taken on. His on-stage comedic persona — the ascending voice, the rapid-fire delivery, those signature hand gestures — is almost totally absent in his portrayal of upper middle class investment banker Richard Cooper. I chided Inside the Actors Studio for including Rock on its program recently, because the guy doesn't ever "act," he just plays "Chris Rock" over and over — a fact he even admits on his appearance on The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell. I Think I Love My Wife is his first true performance as an actor.

If you've heard Rock's recent appearance on The Treatment (you can download the podcast for free on iTunes) you know he's a canny student of the movies and not just a comedian looking to make movie money. I think he's probably got a very good movie in him, but I still think it's a movie or two away. He pushed himself as a director and as an actor, but he still needs to stretch as a writer.

Based on the Rohmer movie Love in the Afternoon, the film watches Cooper as he scratches the seven year itch in his marriage. Happy, with a lovely wife (Gina Torres) and two young kids, he's nevertheless entranced by the return of an old and very foxy friend, Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington) and flirts with an affair throughout the movie. I Think I Love My Wife is the perfect scenario for a Rock vehicle and that's the problem. It's too perfect. Though he's never made a movie about it, this is already well-worn material for Rock. Without having ever seen Love in the Afternoon (embarrassing admission: I haven't), any Rock fan will be disappointed to learn, over the course of watching the movie, that they know the ultimate outcome and message of the movie because it's essentially an old (and ingenious) Chris Rock bit from the Bring the Pain days.

The material is called "The Only Question that Matters," and if I've done this right, this link will take you to the full text of the joke in something called "Google Books," which apparently has the full text of Rock's awesome stand-up book, Rock This, available to read online (Who knew?). It's a bit racy, but here's an excerpt:

A man may say, "Okay, I guess this is it." He may get married and have kids. But years down the line, none of it really matters unless he's made the most important decision."

Committment...or New Pussy?

On the one hand, there's commitment: You and your woman together, forever. Living, sharing, loving, growing. It's the most beautiful thing in the world, and in his heart of hearts a man knows that.

On the other hand there's New Pussy. This needs no explanation.

That, in a nutshell, is I Think I Love My Wife only in funnier, shorter, more potent form. Nothing in the film is as good as Rock's earlier standup routine, and very little of it, as it pertains to the central thesis, is any more insightful. Why pay eleven dollars to see a watered down retread of a brilliant routine you already know?

The thing I liked best about Rock in I Think I Love My Wife is his relationship with his kids. He's surprisingly touching in his deep affection for them and I think that's where Rock needs to push himself onscreen because he hasn't really tackled this subject yet in a lot of detail. Instead of going out on the road and doing another comedy special centered on fatherhood (which I suspect will probably be his next major creative endeavor), I think, as a legitimiate cinematic artist, he should hone the material, develop a story, and craft a film around it. I think I'd love to see that movie.

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Blogger R. Emmet Sweeney said...

To clarify, I said the ending by itself could make the film one of the must-see movies of the year.

I do think it's very good, and would recommend it to anybody, but the way you quoted me makes it sound like an unqualified rave, while I do raise concerns about the film's style in my essay.

8:36 AM  

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