I Think I Love My Wife (2007) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language and some sexual content
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Gina Torres, Steve Buscemi, Edward Herrmann,
Director: Chris Rock
Screenplay: Chris Rock, Louis C.K. (based on the film, Chloe in the Afternoon)
Review published March 23, 2007
Chris Rock (The Longest Yard, Head of State) stars as successful investment banker Richard Cooper, married to his lovely wife Brenda (Torres, Five FIngers), with a nice house and two lovely young daughters. Trouble is, Richard is completely bored, with nothing new ever happening, a sex life that is nonexistent, and he never can do things that he used to do when he was still single. His days are spent fantasizing about other women, but he never has the opportunity to follow through on his desires, until one day, Nikki (Washington, The Dead Girl), the sexy former flame of an old friend, sets her sights on getting far closer than is comfortable for Richard's tastes. Stuck between feelings of desire for Nikki and a severe displeasure for even thinking of betraying Brenda, Richard is in a constant state of stagnation in his friendship with seductive charms of Nikki, too interested to tell her to go away, but too loyal to take it a step further.
Rock takes a chance with a mostly sophisticated comedy, which plays more like a drama that has bits of farce than the usual crass, loudmouth style he is known for. Rock isn't really playing to his strengths here as an actor, but his direction is surprisingly assured, ironically only delivering substantial lulls when diverting away from the conflicts within himself to engage in out-and-out comedy, such as a prolonged scene involving a problem with an extended reaction to Viagra that comes off like a forced injection of comedy meant to placate the audience expecting some big laughs out of a Chris Rock vehicle.
Interestingly, the storyline is lifted, albeit quite loosely, from Eric Rohmer's 1972 film, Chloe in the Afternoon (I vaguely remember it from my French New Wave film studies class), the last of his "Six Moral Tales", which is hardly the kind of material one might think of to associate with Chris Rock in terms of potential remakes. With such a departure in style, Rock does catch himself in a tricky situation of alienating the fans of his more raucous work, while those who are jaded regarding his usual shtick will probably find that his penchant for dick and ass jokes still intrudes far too often in what should have been a more subtle, refined affair. Perhaps it's a no-win situation, but in a way, I can only admire him for that.
My personal take is that, while it isn't as much of a delight as Chloe in the Afternoon, just more of a broad, modern telling, Rock's treatment stays smart, witty, and occasionally profound, with a good deal to contemplate in between the moments of sexiness or straight comedy. It may not be easy to completely sympathize with Cooper's plight, as the only thing really missing in his life is sex, but it's also understandable that he'd have such anxiety over his straying eyes, as he so desperately wants to fill the vacuum of excitement in his life, but isn't willing to risk losing everything important in order to achieve it. Although Rock laces his film with plenty of foul language and sexual gusto, he is wise enough to keep them limited to only certain moments, letting the characters and story give welcome context to the bits of ribald sitcom and slapstick antics.
Rock's delivery isn't always perfect, as the women in the film aren't as faceted as the men, with Brenda seeming bright without ever really showing much depth. Nikki comes across as equally shallow, impulsive to a fault, and yet, she offers little more than an available receptacle for Cooper's desire for the flesh. A half-hearted injection that she was once in the Math Club in school is supposed to make her seem more multifaceted than is ever presented in their relationship built on goo-goo eyes and not-so-innocent flirtations. Steve Buscemi's (Monster House, The Island) more seasoned adulterer role is a bit of a stretch, as he all he ever espouses is that cheating is perfectly fine so long as you don't actually care for your conquests -- no mention of guilt, shame or anxiety over the potential of losing one's wife and life, which is actually what Richard is grappling with. Rock is fine in the lead role, but it's not much of a stretch to imagine it being much more complex and interesting with a better comedian who can handle drama, such as a Jamie Foxx or Will Smith.
I Think I Love My Wife is an adult comedy in both senses of the word. It deals with sexual thoughts, desires, and indulgences that plague the lives of many married men, explicit in language and delivery. At the same time, it is also more mature in its treatment of relationships, showing the ups and downs of marriage and potential dalliances, and the ways in which they can complicate things to the brink of collapse. Unlike most American remakes of French films, which tend to rip out everything that made the original funny and interesting, Rock meets the material halfway, blending the old and the new in a way that will most likely please those who come in with an open mind, not expecting a Rock gag-fest or a sublime Rohmer-esque treatment.
It's flawed in parts, but Rock takes chances with the material most wouldn't, and though not all avenues explored are successful, enough are to make this something different and refreshing among modern-day male-centric romantic comedies. I actually cared about what happened in the end of a sex comedy, which is a rarity in itself. Yes, for the first time after seeing a film in which he has a substantial role, I can finally say, "I think I like a Chris Rock flick".
©2007 Vince Leo