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Think Like a Man

April 25, 2012
Think Like a Man

It’s sort of a cliché, but it really can’t be all that difficult to write a relationship help book; movies rise and fall on conventional narratives all the time, but these books are the crystalized form. By and large they take one or more stories you already know and repeat them back to you. But since it comes out of the pen of a celebrity or has the imprimatur of a famous talk-show host it somehow sounds more true than when your friend tells you, for instance, He’s Just Not That Into You. A few years ago, comedian-turned-radio host Steve Harvey tried his own hand at it with Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, where he packaged some common ideas about men’s behavior into a nicely boiled-down “insider’s view” into the mind of the other team. And yes, the oppositional language of “teams” is intentional; the vast majority of male-female interactions are inherently competitions between “what men want” and “what women want”.

Evidently this book did pretty well, since now it’s been adapted into Think Like a Man, where the book’s narratives are unpacked into four case studies. It’s a tired idea, but the cast is talented and affable, and it’s executed with more than a few genuine laughs, courtesy of screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who assisted Will Gluck on Friends With Benefits. Each case matches up one of a group of guys representing Harvey’s male archetypes with his diametric opposite among the female archetypes, each of whom benefits from Harvey’s wisdom.

Zeke (Romany Malco) is the Player, a smooth-talking ladies’ man who gets phone numbers without even asking. He runs head-on into Mya (Meagan Good) who, tired of being loved and left, decides to implement not just a five-date rule but a full ninety-day rule. This may be longer than Zeke has gone without having sex since he started.

Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) doesn’t hop from bed to bed; he’s been with Kristen (Gabrielle Union) for nine years and he still hasn’t asked her to marry him. They met when they were in college and Jeremy acts like he still is, and Kristen hasn’t insisted that he change until now.

Michael (Terrence J) already has a woman in his life: his mother (Jenifer Lewis). He meets Candace (Regina Hall), who already has another man in her life: her son. Candace has to insist that Michael make her a priority, though of course balancing a boyfriend and a son is no conflict.

Finally, Dominic (Michael Ealy) is an aspiring chef working when he can at the lower levels of various restaurants and catering companies. He sets his sights on Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), the youngest COO of a Fortune 500 company ever, and the only one of the women who needs to change; she has to learn to settle for the imperfect guy she can love and be happy with even though he’s not all she thought she wanted.

Around these four we have the angel and devil of relationships: Bennett (Gary Owen) is the extremely white, racially — but benignly — tone-deaf, happily married man; Cedric (Kevin Hart) is the unhappily married man, getting a divorce from Gail (Wendy Williams) and acting out his own Napoleon complex.

The action plays out pretty much as you’d expect: the girls make gains; the guys find the book; the guys use it themselves to fight back; they break up; they make up. The one thing that really doesn’t make sense to me is why they insist on being so combative about it. For example, one of the things that Kristen wants is for Jeremy to show some initiative and get a better job. She all but points him at a sweet senior position at a video game company, which he’d obviously love. When he figures this out, he uses the book to tell her what she wants to hear when for exactly the same effort he could actually send out a résumé and get the job. All the conflict comes from the men acting to spite the women rather than just going along and doing what would obviously make themselves happier in the first place. But nobody said this was supposed to make sense.

One last thing bears mentioning, though it’s sort of a shame that it’s noteworthy at all. For a majority-black cast, there’s surprisingly little made of race, Bennett’s tone-deafness notwithstanding. There’s no comment on “The Black Experience”, or how race informs this skirmish in the battle of the sexes, even though a widening gap between the educational and economic achievements of African-American women and men is a very real problem and could be profitably mined in a more serious film. No, these are old stories, but they’re universal ones that don’t turn on race. It’s a refreshing change to see the old roles filled by new faces, and I take it as a step in the right direction.

Worth It: not really, but you could do a lot worse.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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