Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Think I Love My Wife: Grade C


I Think I Love My Wife (2007)

Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Gina Torres. Writer, Director Chris Rock.

Rock is an affluent stock broker in Manhattan. His shirts are button-down, his briefcase leather, and he shops at Saks, not Macy’s. In the suburbs he has a lovely wife (Torres) and two cute kids in a huge, well-appointed house. But alas, Rock tells us in tedious voiceover, he and his wife no longer have sex (for undisclosed reasons). He therefore fantasizes about being wild and single again, and surprise, along comes the devil in a red dress (Washington). Will he take the bait? Stay tuned to find out! These are all archetypes of modern life, none realistic or intended to be. But neither are they novel or interesting. Instead of showing us dramatic or comedic situations, Rock narrates a witty stand-up routine over mundane scenes. He is such a funny guy, that approach could work, but instead of the insightful social satire he is capable of, we get worn-out pre-adolescent sexual innuendo and farce, along with facile racial/racist one-liners. Add it all up and you have a shallow comedy that could only appeal to a child's mind.

Nevertheless, there are two redeeming virtues. One is the subtle message about growing up. It often does happen that one day you ask yourself, “Is this all there is?” You have suppressed the wild urges and dreams of adolescence in exchange for the respect and stability of adulthood, only to find you have traded the best part of life for a living death. That is a modern tragedy deserving serious attention. That would have been a great movie. The theme is here, but buried. Why is Rock’s character bored? He has no interests except sex. He doesn’t read, play the violin, watch movies, coach baseball, sail a boat, collect stamps, follow politics, or even show interest in work or making money. He is indeed the living dead, and it wasn’t marriage that caused it. What is that story?

A second tantalizing, unexplored theme is race. Rock’s character is over-the-top successful. He’s not CEO of the brokerage, but he would be in the top 5% of income earners in America. His clothes, habits, household, language, values, everything about him, are white stereotypes. He is the black man who achieves virtual whiteness. It is nice not to see the typical black stereotypes but why substitute white stereotypes? Putting a white stereotype on a black man is not played for laughs here. It is simply the factual premise of the character. Yet there are only the slightest hints of tension between those two stereotypes. How does he feel now about being “b-l-a-c-k,” as he says to his wife so the girls won’t understand? Did he check his ethnicity at the door along with his adolescent joie-de-vivre when he became an adult? This is the second theme that makes you think long after the movie is over.

I get the feeling Rock had a serious movie in mind but lacked the courage to go for it, the result being a couple of deep ideas thickly plastered over with safe, familiar jokes. The movie is thus perhaps an unintentional self-portrait.

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