I Think I Love My Wife (2007)
The story of a man (Chris Roick) trapped in a sexless marriage (with Gina Torres) tempted by an old friend (Kerry Washington) and forced through a series of comic misadventures that bring him to the brink of infidelity…but will he cross that line? Good question. Loosely based on a French film “Chloe In the Afternoon”, this is an improvement for Rock in terms of acting and directing, but not a completely satisfying piece of work despite some nice acting and writing. I’d give it a “C+”
And now if you want to know what I really think…
WARNING! SAMBO ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
I came within a hair of utterly loathing this film. Remember, please, that I cannot go to an experience without bringing some preconceptions and preassumptions to it. In this case, my assumption was that Chris Rock, as writer/director, would have to avoid open sexuality in his film due to factors we’ve discussed in nauseating detail on this blog. Therefore, my antennae were up. SPOILERS AHEAD.
In effect, this is a raunchy sex comedy without any sex. The rough language (definitely R-rated) is at odds with the visual content, which is TV-movie level, or like a 60’s comedy like “Guide for the Married Man.” The verbal content makes this adult. Therefore, to avoid sex as it does, while talking about it constantly, made it obvious that Rock knew what he had to do to get this past a studio, and hopefully to build a movie-style acting career. No, he doesn’t nail Kerry Washington, but comes close, finally realizing he “Loves his wife” as the title goes. The problem is that his life at home has been utterly sexless for years. He and his wife fly to each other’s arms, sing a funny R&B riff, kiss and…cut.
What? Oh, right. You can’t show a black man having sex. I forgot. Now, there actually is some nice sensuality (back rubbing and so forth). And some emotional intimacy—clearly, on an emotional level, he’s having an affair with Washington already. But since I went IN to the movie knowing they would avoid a love scene (but hoping to be pleasantly surprised), I came very very close to considering the entire affair to be cowardice on a gigantic level. Interesting that my wife didn’t see it that way—because of the emotional intimacy aspect. Well, to put it bluntly, that is a mode of thought more common to women than men. In other words, the old stereotype is that men are intimate to get sex, and women are sexual to get intimacy. The relative importance of sex and intimacy are different for men and women. I’ve known bunches of marriages where women put up with husbands having sex outside their marriage—it was their husbands developing emotional intimacy with another woman that freaked them out. And men don’t much care if their wives have gay male friends with whom they bare their souls—but if their wives had sex with another man, that would freak THEM out. At any rate, this is a “tend-to” not an absolute.
But looking at this issue strips this movie pretty bare. Who was it designed to appeal to? My guess: women primarily, black women specifically. There were no white females of any real prominence, so the empathy factor is restricted to those who can empathize cross-race with no problems. White males? I think not. I suspect that a lot of white guys spent the whole movie feeling vaguely uncomfortable because there MIGHT be some sex coming up. That discomfort would put them in the position of criticizing the film for structure, writing, acting, etc. rather than surrendering to the delicious anticipation. Again, I come to this conclusion not from this particular film, but from watching patterns of success and criticism for movies over a course of decades.
Black men? Like I said, human beings like both sensuality and sex, but men like sex. “Romance novels” and “Pornography” occupy similar positions in the female and male psyche, as far as I can see. A little sex in romance novels—but it’s mostly build-up. A little romance/relationship in porn, but its mostly intercourse and variation. So Tananarive literally didn’t consider that it was all build-up and no pay-off.
Of course she, as a black woman, has no problem since if she desires to see herself as a sexual being, she can see it onscreen frequently—as long as the woman is having sex with a white man (note Kerry Washington’s recent turn in LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, for instance.)
It is the persistence of this pattern, and people’s convenient blindness to it, that motivates these blog entries. Like I’ve often said, it isn’t that this, in itself, is so important—it’s that it is a measurable, predictable pattern. And because it is (apparently) unconscious, one cannot tell me that it doesn’t manifest in a thousand other arenas: legal, educational, etc. etc. to the detriment of people outnumbered 10 to one by those with the engrained, unconscious, denied prejudice. Now remember: I’m saying EVERYONE thinks this way—white people are special in no way at all, neither negative or positive. If they were outnumbered 10 to one, it would be black people creating images that emasculate white males.
Insofar as the black women thing…if you are a black woman, ask yourself how you would feel if you NEVER saw black men and women making love, and every time you saw a black man making love, it was with a white woman. This has never, ever, ever been a part of cinematic history. Back in the 70’s there was a brief window when black men were treated like human beings in this regard. They mostly made love to black women. Occasionally to a white woman…and black women protested like crazy. But when the shoe is on the other foot, and black women EXCLUSIVELY make love to white men, I hear not a peep from the sisters. No outrage. Of course—if the position was reversed, black men wouldn’t be outraged if black women were excluded. It’s the nature of selfishness and self-centered and conveniently selective blindness.
But I confess to being disappointed. I confess that somewhere deep inside me I’d hoped women were more sensitive, more honest, more compassionate and empathetic than men.
No. They’re not. And that was actually a growing-up point for me. Whites aren’t worse. Women aren’t better. We’re all just in this together.
At any rate, Rock and his wife end up in a fully-clothed clinch at the end. Did they have sex? Presumably, although possibly not. They could have given us ten more seconds, Rock and Torres under the sheets—no need for nudity or explicitness. But tenderness and connection, and a rekindling of their marital fires? And there is no indication at all, not the slightest, that this aspect of their marriage has been healed. So…it’s alright to have a marriage where you make love once every two years? All that build-up, and nothing. So…my guess? Black men wouldn’t be happy. White men wouldn’t be happy. I suspect that the quadrant most likely to appreciate it would be black women…and they might well not be happy with the depictions of black women: Kerry as wounded seductress, Torres as Sexless Suzy Homemaker. So Rock has made a movie which, by trying so hard not to offend anyone, ends up pleasing no one.
It is impossible for me to believe that if this movie had been made by white stars, with similar elements, it would have been as sexless. I don’t know about the original film “Chloe in the Afternoon”---maybe there was sex, maybe there wasn’t. But I guarantee you the language wasn’t as raunchy and suggestive, setting up a different tone that they were afraid to pay off.
And I refuse to believe that if this had been made by a black film company for black audiences, distributed to black theaters, they would have had this disturbingly jarring set of elements: raunchy language, PG-content.
Now, there will be some who say “well then, why don’t black people make and finance their own films…” and with all due respect, anyone who says this has no idea what they’re talking about. I know black industry people who have succeeded in doing just this: financing and producing their own films. The struggles they have gone through just to get them released in theater chains has been phenomenal. The movie business—from financing to equipment to processing to distribution to exhibition—is controlled top to bottom by white folks tied to multi-billion dollar multinational conglomerates. In the 1930’s and 40’s there were movies produced for the “Black Belt” of black movie theaters. How many independent movie theaters are left? In the 1970’s there was, as I’ve said, a brief window when cheaply produced movies targeted at specific audiences could make a good profit (“Shaft” cost under 1 million and made over 10).
But now that avenue is called direct-to-video, a second-tier of quality in acting, production, or writing. And in direct to DVD you can find the imagery missing from the big screen. Yes, I know that.
But as I say over and over, the thing that gets to me is that most filmgoers are utterly unconscious of how this selection pressure twists and torques artists. And then, when they look at social statistics about crime, poverty, education, etc, they like to believe that the playing field is level. Folks, this is what you can do:
1) Say “yes the playing field isn’t level and I don’t care. I’ve got mine.” That’s fine, and can be an honest point of view. But people very rarely are this honest.
2) Say “the playing field is level” and that these statistical flukes are just in my mind. Fine. Now explain to me why I’ve been able to predict box office performance for thirty years based upon this single factor, and only been wrong ONCE (“Save the last Dance”)
3) Say “The playing field isn’t level, but I can’t do anything about it. Let me stay asleep and enjoy my movies.” This is the common attitude, and it is held by many millions of good folks. Fine, and I empathize. I have one serious suggestion for you:
Don’t read my blog. This is where I take what is INSIDE my head and put it out where I can analyze it. I place it in public, where anyone in the world can challenge me. It's one of the ways I keep the anger from turning me into those I do not admire.
This is where I tell my truth, pretty or not. God knows someone has to. And God knows I won't see it on the screen. And if you can't tell the truth, you cannot create Art. Chris Rock is in a pickle: he wants to be cuddly and harmless and dangerous all at the same time. And that's a tightrope walk over a cultural shark tank. I wish him well. Hell, I'd even lend him a parasol.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
I Think I Love My Wife (2007)
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:23 AM