Wednesday, 13 June 2012

If you could read…my mind

Think Like a Man: directed by Tim Story; written by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman

Theoretically every movie follows of some sort, whether it’s adhering to conventions of the genre, the filmmaker’s oeuvre or just the general hook of beginning, middle and end. Formula is essential, and at the same time formulaic can be exasperating. Oftentimes a major criticism of what we perceive to be formulaic stems from us knowing how things will end. I’d wager that it’s less about knowing the ending than it is about knowing how it will reach there. For example, knowing that the hero will live throughout the film does not eschew the thrill of knowing how he avoids death.

Enter, Think Like a Man

A romantic comedy, two words that seem to elicit an unfair shudder from true cinephiles even as I’d admit it’s a genre with tropes which need to be reassessed. Think Like a Man is a romantic comedy of the ensemble variety, films of this nature of course addressing several issues under a similar theme with some attempt at concision. The theme in question being the combative nature of romance, and the necessity of the female populating understanding the male psyche from the inside out to succeed – fair enough.

"So...I just read this and I'll have a successful love life?"
What’s immediately notable about Think Like a Man is the reverence it pays to its source material because Harvey’s novel is a reality in the film itself, and over time becomes the film’s most significant character. The film traverses through the love-lives of four couples and in staying true to the source material all eight are archetypes (or stereotypes depending on where you’re looking from, and what colour your glasses are) lifted from the text. We know these because immersed throughout are clips from Harvey’s appearance on a talk show where he explains to the audience (within the film, and without) how each of these archetypes work. And, because Harvey is such a genius all his archetypes prove to be accurate. (Apologies for the snark.)

Think Like a Man is produced by Harvey, his involvement is prominent and understandable. Adaptations of books are always trick, in fiction one must remember they are different mediums and being “faithful” is not the same as being good. Nonfiction is, (of the self-help variety) perhaps, more difficult to meander through. If one is “faithful” one invariably runs the risk of having to prove that whatever help is being given is accurate. Reputation-wise the decision is sound, narrative-wise it’s specious. Cinema, like any art form, earns its thrills from nuances and self-help books aren’t artistic outputs (helpful as they may me). They depend on best or worst-case scenarios and a generally lack of overwhelming specificity which normatively a film should do well to avoid. Think Like a Man, due to its formation, cannot do so and instead Keith Merryman and David A. Newman do their best to, if not inject specific originality, make the essential tropes work.
males in romantic comedies, standards of the genre and the trouble with self-help after the jump...

I apologise if I’m basing my supposition on a paucity of empirical data, but intrigues me the way that predominantly black romantic comedies seem to be more devoted to the male audience than the predominantly non-black ones. That’s perhaps a hypothesis for an entirely new article, but it bears mentioning when one assesses the way that character develop in Think Like a Man (and the film’s somewhat surprising box-office success). The film earns its title from the eponymous self-help book from comedian Steve Harvey, a dissertation on hidden inclinations of the male dater and the way to beat him at his own game. Non-fiction literature and self-help books (quasi and otherwise) have been adapted to film before. In fact, the paradigm here reminds me of Tina Fey’s adaptation of “Queen Bees and Wannabes” – a book to sensitise parents to the worlds of their teenagers – into Mean Girls.

Saying the script is not bad sounds like grudging praise, perhaps so, but the ability of the duo to escape the most crippling of clichés is something that deserves recognition. When not being forced to follow the strictures of the book, there are some beats in the characters that are especially charming. In addition, recalling the previous romance for males comments, the film does not end up playing either gender short. If they’re stereotyped, they’re all stereotyped – no gender more than the other, so that I’m intrigued to see them make attempts to hone what’s good about their work. (They both teamed up for Friends with Benefits last year, another somewhat enjoyable, often exasperating romantic comedy with issues, but few of them in relation to character and gender biases).

Falling on its ensemble strictures, then, Think Like a Man resorts to depending on its cast for effect. There’s really on so much to be done, it’s light stuff and it’s fun and they’re all having fun. There’s no bad egg in the crop even if Megan Good does become a bit too unsubtle in her characterisation. Alas, despite their effort, most can’t sell the hook of a book holding so much importance in a relationship. Two of the four relationships experience temporary trouble when the revelation is made of who is reading what, and it’s so impossible forced it’s difficult for any actor to completely salvage. So, the end-all of everything tying up all the relationships (main and peripheral) with a bow straight from Steve Harvey is something that makes me roll my eyes just a bit. Hardly a wasted effort, and with the source and money behind it impossible to turn out significantly different, ultimately Think Like a Man is a fairly adequate romp.

What can you lose? / C

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