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Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Think I Love My Wife

My husband and I have been together for almost 26 years, and so the topic of infidelity, if it was going to be an issue, has probably long passed. Nobody wants either of us anymore. We of the drooping skin, crinkling eyes and graying hair boomer generation have passed our “do-able” date like an expired gallon of milk, so we don’t worry much about the idea of cheating spouses unless it is on an afternoon soap opera. This week, though, two new movies opened at the Essex Cinemas, and both had plots that involved infidelity. It made me wonder if I was missing something. Was everybody having a little bedunkdedunk but me? With someone other than their spouse I mean. I decided I would see I Think I Love My Wife and see what Chris Rock had to offer on the subject.

Now I have to admit that I have always found Chris Rock extremely funny and entertaining, but his stand-up comedy is one thing. His making a full length movie about a man on the prowl for sex might be a bit too much. I mean, the preview made it look like Animal House with an erection. Boy, was that misguiding. Sure, the movie does start out with Rock’s usual jive banter and a lot of “f bombs” dropped here and there, and he definitely acts like he’s in heat to start with, but that is just to get all the crap people expect from Chris Rock out of the way before he can get on to business. At first it seems like he is more Chris Rock than Richard Cooper, the character he plays, but that levels off after the first fifteen minutes or so and the story ~ the real story ~ finally begins.

Richard is an upper middle class executive married for ten years to Brenda (Gina Torres; Five Fingers), a tired, busy mother of two who has definitely put Richard on the backburner as far as romance is concerned. It’s not that she doesn’t love and appreciate him, but she is just not into him the way she once was. Unfortunately, Richard wants desperately to get into her, if you know what I mean, and I am sure that you do.

With that not happening at home, it makes it all the easier for him to fantasize about every woman he sees ~ strangers on the train to work, women in department stores, tourists on the street. Let’s face it. Richard is a horndog, but
he is also a dedicated family man, so he is only into dreaming about the what ifs, not actually acting on them. And then along comes Nikki. Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington; The Last King of Scotland) is the ex-girlfriend of a long-ago friend of Richard’s, and she has looked him up now for solace and help in getting a reference after breaking up with her current live-in boyfriend. Theoretically, Nikki has no designs on Richard but it is obvious to everyone in Richard’s office that she is like a fast-moving freight train to infidelity and his two secretaries Mary (Welker White; Julie Johnson) and Tracy (Samantha Ivers; Inside Man) provide enough contemptuous sourpuss facial expressions to fill a Republican National Convention during a discussion about gay marriage as a way of indicating their displeasure with Nikki’s presence on their turf. Meanwhile, pal George (Steve Buscemi; Charlotte’s Web), the office lothario and a married man who cheats with every woman he can score with, finds it hard to imagine Richard scoring with Nikki since he knows Richard suffers from that rarest of maladies ~ a conscience ~ so he is rather blunt in giving Richard his unsolicited advice about not getting involved with this woman, and yet he is more than willing to bless him with some Viagra at the same time (just in case).

The gist of the movie is about Richard’s growing involvement in Nikki’s life and the assumption by everyone around him that he is having an affair with her, backed up by his own actions that put his marriage at risk in the pursuit of spending time with his new best friend. How far is this man willing to go for another person who seems only to take, take, and take some more from him? If she is not wanting his time, then she is needing his advice, or his emotional support, or his help in moving, or… well, it is always something, and it takes him away from his job as much as away from his family, leading him into dangerous territory all around.

This is not exactly the light-hearted laughs many of Rock’s fans may be expecting. Oh, he does deliver riffs in character on some familiar territory like the use of the “N” word, and how he (Richard) separates his identity as a black man from that of the “n****er” and yet also resents being characterized as “white” for not falling into a typical black stereotype. He even works in some great Michael Jackson jabs (On babysitting and MJ: “I wouldn’t let him watch my kids. I wouldn’t even let him watch my kids on tv.”), but there is an underlying weight to I Think I Love My Wife that may take viewers by surprise. The message that family is the most important thing a man has and that a man has to be responsible to himself and his family before his libido is going against the perceived notion that men think with their little brains and worry about the consequences of their actions later. Certainly this is a charge that has been leveled within and at the African American community in particular for decades and for one of its premier laugh-makers to voice an opinion that goes against the accepted idea that sex on the side during marriage is okay may raise eyebrows, but it is nice to see Rock, as actor, writer, and director present a grown-up story that doesn’t take the easy road and go for cheap laughs. Parts of I Think I Love My Wife are heartbreaking. Other bits are very funny, but over-all it is a well-done foray into a topic that will make a lot of people squirm. There are no psycho bad guys a la Fatal Attraction in this one to make the answers clear-cut. This is much more grounded in reality, and that’s what makes it such a good movie. The fact that Rock can keep his audience wondering right up until the moment we find Richard removing Nikki's panties whether he is going to follow his baser instincts or turn to his higher ideals shows his real skill as a director and writer. I, for one, am quite impressed with the growth he continues to show as an artist. I think you will be too.

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