You would think someone who was briefly a stand-up comedian, and is currently the host of a very popular talk radio podcast program that centers on dating and relationships would choose the genre of ‘romantic comedies’ (the nickname in the Entertainment Industry is “rom-com”) as his favorite movie category, right? Well, you would be wrong.
Ironically, my sentiments are almost just the opposite. At least three out of every five rom-coms I have viewed over the years left me feeling disappointed, frustrated, and sometimes even angry. If you are talking rom-coms where one or more of the lead characters were Black, then that percentage probably goes up to four out of every five films I have seen.
Generally speaking, I love romantic dramas as a group much more than I do romantic comedies. I tend to perceive the overall attributes, quirks, actions, and general behavior of most rom-com characters and their respective storylines to be highly unrealistic, sappy, and/or melodramatic. The vast majority of rom-coms center on the early stages of a man and a woman getting together, and usually close the film with the proverbial “happy ending.” Sorry readers, but I am not the biggest fan of ‘happy endings.’ For example, one of my favorite romantic dramas of all-time is the low-budget independent film, Love Jones, which had neither a ‘happy’ ending nor a ‘sad’ ending. The ending was somewhere right in the middle … more than anything, the ending was real.
When Steve Harvey first came out with his book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, I will confess that I offered both private and public criticisms of the book. In my opinion, most of the generalizations about men’s behavior toward women that were valid were not new or original, and some of the advice he offered to women was just, in my opinion, lame. For example, Harvey’s “90-Day Rule” that encourages women to avoid exchanging orgasms with a man for a minimum of ninety-days with the objective that these women will hopefully “weed out” the men who are the more ‘incorrigible womanizer’ types who are only looking to just “hit it and quit it.”
Bottom line of the above four paragraphs? I went into to the movie theater to see the film adaptation of Harvey’s book, Think Like a Man (TLAM), with very low expectations. I can honestly say, I anticipated leaving the theater with a frown on my face and ready to dissect and destroy what I felt would be another formulaic and totally unrealistic rom-com.
I was wrong. I really enjoyed this feature-film. This movie was a delightful, pleasant surprise. As an entertaining comedy, and particularly for Black singles, I give this movie five out of five stars. As an infomercial for Harvey’s book that is designed to provide single women with useful advice on to get and keep a man, I would give it maybe 2.5 stars out of 5. Overall, I would rate the film four out of five stars. Many other critics were not so kind. Only thirty-four of sixty-nine critics on the popular site Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a positive review.
Up to this point, the only rom-coms I have loved with a Black lead character have been Eddie Murphy films (e.g., Boomerang, Coming to America, The Nutty Professor) or Will Smith’s Hitch. A handful of other rom-coms I loved with a predominately African-American cast were The Best Man, Hav Plenty, I Think I Love My Wife, and Love, Sex and Eating the Bones (here is a list I published in September 2009 of my personal Top Ten favorite romantic comedies and dramas that I feel men will love just as much, if not more than the women).
Based on the casting for TLAM, I did not feel that any one actor or actress had the capability to ‘carry’ this film (a term used by Entertainment Industry executives to suggest that there must be at least one “A-list superstar” in a film in order for it to be successful at the box-office; Tyler Perry, among others, was one of the first to prove this belief invalid). Much kudos to Casting Director Kim Hardin for putting this ensemble together, and as much or more kudos to Director Tim Story for getting the best performances out of each and every actor and actress he worked with in this film.
I do not want to discuss the film in too much detail, because I do not want to give away any “movie spoilers” for those who have yet to see the film, but to give you the gist of the film, the movie centers on six male friends and their respective women of interest:
Bennett a.k.a. “The Happily Married Guy” (comedian Gary Owen, who was the first Caucasian person to host the BET Network’s ComicView) They do not show Bennett’s fictional wife in the film;
Cedric a.k.a. “The Happily Divorced Guy” (Comedian Kevin Hart); Cedric is in the midst of a divorce from his ex-wife Gail (the casting of his ex-wife was very clever and hilarious);
Dominic a.k.a. “The Dreamer” (actor Michael Ealy) who is totally smitten with the highly self-assured and financially self-sufficient COO Lauren (Academy Award nominated Taraji P. Henson)
Jeremy a.k.a. “The Non-Committal Boyfriend” (actor Jerry Ferrara) who has been dating his girlfriend Kristen (actress Gabrielle Union) for nine years, but has yet to propose to her
Michael a.k.a. “The Mama’s Boy” (actor Terrence J) who crosses paths with his teenage crush, Candace (actress Regina Hall)
Zeke a.k.a. “The Player” (actor Romany Malco) who has an interest in the cute and sexy Mya (actress Meagan Good)
Hart’s whining and complaining character of Cedric almost single-handedly steals the movie when it comes to non-stop comic relief. The comedian known for the mantra, “Laugh at my Pain,” displays exceptional comedic timing in this film. Being truthful, prior to this film, I tended to find Hart’s characters and humor more annoying than genuinely funny, but he indoctrinated me into his fan club after his performance in TLAM. I think Hart’s performance in this film is going to elevate him to the next level of comedic film actors.
The character of Bennett was not fully fleshed out, but Owens did a great job capturing the essence of the “basic White guy who hangs out with the Bruthas.” Bennett never tries to “act Black,” but he is comfortable with Black humor. I have had a few Caucasian male friends who were “Bennett” types over the years.
The character of Michael was written in a manner that was a wee bit over-the-top for my tastes, but that is no reflection on Terrence J’s portrayal of the well-mannered gentleman who has been raised by his overbearing, domineering single mother (played by the always entertaining Jenifer Lewis). I have had some male friends of mine who were “mama’s boys” to a degree, but never to the extent of having their mother join them on a lunch date or dinner date with a love interest.
I love Ferrara from the HBO comedy Entourage (where he played the character of the loveable “Turtle”), which will go down in history as one of my favorite television comedies of all-time. Ferrara has lost weight, and developed a more slim and lean physique which made his pairing with the beautiful Union that much more believable. I thought those two performers had surprisingly great chemistry between them as the college sweethearts who have yet to walk down the altar.
I thought the role of Mya might arguably be Good’s best role to date in a feature-film. In most films I have viewed her in, I always looked at her as just mere peripheral eye candy. In TLAM, Good was almost the perfect casting choice for her character. A good number of women with an attractive face and curvaceous figure can relate to the experience of many men just wanting to engage in a one-night stand or weekend fling, only to never hear from the man again. The R&B singer Chris Brown is given a brief cameo as a womanizing charmer who beds Mya, and then goes about his business afterwards after running out after an erotic tryst. I thought this was a good role for Brown to re-establish himself as a presence on the big screen, given the ups and downs of his personal life.
I also thought Hall’s character of Candace came off quite believable. Over the years, I have known a number of women who have confessed to me that being a single mother of one or more children made them feel egotistically insecure to one degree or another when meeting a new man of interest. Candace displays that insecurity in a subtle manner both in her voice and her disposition. I think all single moms viewing this film will empathize with her challenges.
The two characters whose quirks, attributes and storylines resonated with me the most were Ealy’s ‘Dreamer’ character (Dominic) and Malco’s ‘Player’ character (Zeke). Now, if you are a loyal fan of this column of mine, you know I take the term ‘player’ very, very seriously. In my opinion, if you are a habitual liar with women, you cannot truly earn the title of ‘player’ (see my previous article about various terms for ladies’ men and womanizers). If I were the screenwriter for this film instead of Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, Zeke would have been labeled “The Lying Womanizer / Dog” instead of “The Player,” but I am being nitpicky with semantics and subjective terminology.
I have always said that at any given point in time when a man meets a woman, he is initially interested in one of four types of sexual relationships: long-term monogamous (e.g., living together or “shacking up,” marriage), long-term non-monogamous (e.g., “friends-with-benefits,” an ‘open’ polyamorous relationship), short-term monogamous (e.g., your typical “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship that might last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years), and short-term non-monogamous (e.g., a one-night stand, weekend fling, or any other variation of what is known as ‘casual’ sex). Zeke represents men who are primarily after the latter, while Dominic possesses the qualities and desires of a man who is looking for a “soul mate” and lifelong partner.
Some in the media give both genders the impression that heterosexual dating and relationships is an area of life that is far more challenging for single women than it is for single men, and I tend to vehemently disagree with this notion (hence, why I wrote my own dating-related books). I have known quite a few male friends in my day who have had their hearts broken by a woman when they made the mistake of wearing their hearts on their sleeves and placing a woman on a pedestal too quickly, just as I have been friends with many women who have had their emotions sent into disarray by a womanizer who they thought they could “change” into a monogamy-minded ‘boyfriend’ type, but failed to.
For most of my adult life, starting with my early twenties until present day, I would probably evaluate myself as 60% Zeke and 40% Dominic. Men will definitely relate to Zeke because for the most part, Zeke just wants to have sex with every woman he meets with a cute face and a sexy figure. Malco, whose character of Jay made me laugh out loud in the box-office hit, The 40 Year Old Virgin, turned out to be an excellent choice for the role of Zeke. Malco had the lean and muscular athletic physique to provide eye candy for the female audience, and he uses his quick wit, personal charisma, and confident demeanor to camouflage his character’s more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive side.
In order for a man to elevate his desires and interests from sexual enjoyment and orgasms being “the cake” to being the “frosting on the cake,” a man must begin to see a woman as a companion who has more to offer him than just another pretty face, firm breasts, a plump derriere, and the addictive pleasure center in between her legs. Initially, you can tell that Zeke just wants to charm and seduce Mya as quickly as possible. Mya, after reading Harvey’s book, decides to exercise some self-control and sexual restraint by adhering to the aforementioned ’90 Day Rule.’ Soon, the audience can sense that Zeke gradually grows fond of Mya, and begins to enjoy her company beyond a desire to seduce and conquer for self-serving gratification.
I thought of all of the four or five couples featured in the film, the ups and downs of Dominic and Lauren were the closest to real life (I guess you have figured out by now that I have a big issue with the concept of realism in movies … I do not care for ‘fantasy’ romances or ‘fairytale’ romances, but if the film is a comedy, I am a bit more lenient).
Dominic immediately looks at the very ambitious, classy and elegant Lauren as more than pleasurable bed company for a short, specified period of time. The problem with Lauren is that she feels as though she has yet to meet a man who is “on her level” and lives up to the career achievements and financial success of her former boyfriend James (another surprising and entertaining cameo appearance).
There is a romantic scene in the film involving a meticulously planned dinner date that has the underlay of John Legend’s smooth ballad Tonight (I have played this song like twenty-five plus times since leaving the movie theater) that actually had me smiling in my seat. Confession: women do not have a monopoly on the decades old movie theater reaction of thinking to themselves or saying out loud “awwwwww” in response to a scene where the romantic chemistry between two characters feeling each other is at its highest.
I believe any man who wants to impress a woman, and wants to motivate her to be his “lady” would want to emulate Dominic’s efforts to add nice touches and ‘bells and whistles’ to a morning-after-lovemaking spontaneous breakfast and the dinner mentioned above. Given that my late mother used to refer to me as “The Dreamer” and her older sister and my late Aunt Agnes once labeled me “The Closet Romantic,” Dominic and Lauren’s scenes really left me touched (man-speak for ‘left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside’).
Most men I know who are broke and unemployed would not even have the confidence to approach a woman of Lauren’s stature. If they did, at some point, their egotistical insecurities regarding their lack of career success, erratic employment, and lack of funds would prove to get the best of them. Similar to Hall’s portrayal of Candace and her insecurity of having a child, Ealy did an excellent job allowing his demeanor, conversation, and facial expressions to reveal those very insecurities that I spoke of that Dominic was trying his best to hide.
I found it clever and entertaining that Harvey, in order to balance out the fact that he was blatantly promoting his book and personal philosophies and principles repeatedly in this film, also took time to have the various fictional characters poke fun at him. One female character referred to him as “that fat bald head man on the cover of the book” and another called him “The Family Feud guy.” There are parts in this film where the dialogue, and particular Hart’s streetwise borderline R-rated humor, will have you laughing so hard that you will inevitably miss some jokes. I must see this film a second time in order to make sure I did not miss any funny lines.
I do have three or four very minor criticisms. I think they should have had Owens (who is married to a Black woman in real life) and his character of Bennett be seen in one or two scenes with his wife that would show to the audience what a happy marriage should look like. Also, they could have maybe had at least one female character who was struggling with her weight (many women are self-conscious about their weight in the same manner that some men who are less than six feet are ill-at-ease about their height). I also wanted to know what type of career Zeke was involved with that allowed him to have that funky crib he was living in. Finally, I could not tell if these characters lived in Los Angeles (the visuals suggested so) or Chicago (they mentioned “Rush Street” in the dialogue).
I am not sure if many singles who are not of African-American culture will be able to fully comprehend all of the humor in the film. Some of my Caucasian friends still do not totally “get” a lot of Black humor in the way that bruthas and sistahs do, such was when Cedric humorously tells the bare-chested Zeke, “ni**a, put a shirt on … it’s just us. Ain’t nobody upstairs…” (I was laughing so hard at that line I started choking on my popcorn) The cast may be predominately Black, but the messages espoused during the film are without questions universal. I believe any single man or woman of any race will be able to relate to the challenges of finding Ms. Right or Mr. Right in today’s ever-so-challenging dating scene.
Now, if you will excuse me, I will return right now to an episode of pleasantly distracting daydreaming about a perfect evening of fine wine, some Char-Grilled Chilean Sea Bass that has been marinated to perfection (You didn’t think I ate chicken wings EVERY day, did you?), and some highly appealing female companionship in nice warm weather. On a rooftop … with candles … and John Legend’s “Tonight” playing in the background (over and over and over again).
Yeah. The Closet Romantic.
Alan Roger Currie is the author of three paperbacks that help men overcome the fears and egotistical insecurities that prevent them from approaching women with confidence, and encourages single heterosexual men to express their romantic and sexual desires, interests and intentions to single women in a more highly self-assured, upfront, and straightforwardly honest manner. For more information, visit http://www.modeone.net. Currie is currently organizing a weekend workshop to be held in Chicago, IL that will be geared toward single heterosexual men and based on the contents of his books; For more information, click here.