On Second Thought, by Tyler Smith
A few minutes into Tim Story’s Think Like a Man, I started to feel offended. Specifically, as a man. As I listened to the way the female characters spoke about men, then I watched how the male characters behaved, and was subjected to the generalizations of Steve Harvey about modern masculinity, I really started to get mad. Granted, it is not at all unusual for a romantic comedy to deal in generalities of both genders- often with the man coming off as chauvinistic and overly macho- this film seemed to really revel in the negative aspects of its male characters.
Thankfully, by the time the film was over, I was no longer offended on behalf of men. I was offended on behalf of humanity in general. There is a little something in this film to bother everybody. It is a film that deals primarily in stereotypes; class, gender, and, yes, even race.
The men here are seen as overgrown babies, unwilling to commit and only wanting to be taken care of. The women of the film are demanding and more than a little whiny. Then, of course, there is the nerdy white friend who just can’t help but accidentally making racially insensitive comments. But, wait, that same nerdy white friend is the only man that has a good, healthy relationship with his wife. So, it’s almost as though the suburban white guy has it all figured out and the urban black guys don’t. Hmmm.
Of course, while the women in the film aren’t incredibly likable, they are clearly the characters with which we are supposed to sympathize more. They have noble intentions while the men of the film simply want to continue living selfishly. There is one very notable exception to this rule, and it sends a clear message about the philosophy of the film. Taraji P. Henson plays a successful businesswoman, whose loneliness comes out of having high standards for a potential boyfriend or husband. While the other women of the film- including a single mother, a loyal girlfriend, and a woman striving for sexual abstinence- are seen as strong and desirable, this character is singled out for rebuke. She talks too much about her job. She intimidates the men she’s with. On more than one occasion, the other characters accuse her of being more man than woman.
While I’m not sure I would consider myself much of a feminist, I found this line of thinking to be decidedly off putting. It’s as though this woman is being punished by the film for having the sheer audacity to have ambition. In a film that is marketed to women, the message is clear: By all means, be strong, but not too strong. Yes, you can have your job, but don’t take it too seriously. You don’t want to frighten your man away and wind up old and alone. Because, as we all know, the only way to be truly happy is to be attached to someone, right?
As I said, this film has something in it to offend almost everybody. Really, the only person that comes out pretty much unscathed is Steve Harvey, the author of the book on which the film is based, who shows up periodically as a sort of Greek chorus of brilliant relationship advice. Steve is not your typical man. He is, in fact, seen as some sort of prophet, dispensing the kind of wisdom that people in the past have fought and died to preserve. Characters in the film read his book as if it were the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran all rolled into one. In actuality, the advice given is so eye-rollingly obvious, any adult could arrive there if they gave themselves about a solid 60 seconds. The only way anybody could hear this advice and think, “Wow, I never thought of that” is if they literally had never given a moment’s thought to the dynamic of romantic relationships.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I will admit that I laughed a few times. As far as I can tell, though, this seemed to be almost exclusively a function of the actors. Romany Malco manages to take a run-of-the-mill line like “This bitch is crazy” and actually do something with it, which is admirable. The biggest laugh-getter of the film is Kevin Hart, who takes an obnoxious character and makes him funny through sheer force of will.
Think Like a Man is one of a number of films “adapted” from books that do not actually have a narrative (please note What to Expect When You’re Expecting, being released later this year). There is probably a way to make this work, but, if Fast Food Nation and He’s Just Not That Into You are any sort of example, there needs to be a lot of effort to keep it from just being half-baked, middle-of-the-road philosophies shoved into the mouths of an ensemble cast. It takes more discipline that it would appear many filmmakers are willing to exercise. Without a writer and director willing to make that effort, you just wind up with a group of talented actors that all sound like Steve Harvey. And that is not a desirable prospect.