By Daniel Garrett
Think Like A Man
Starring Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Taraji P. Henson,
Romany Malco, and Gabrielle Union
Directed by Tim Story
Screenplay by Keith Merryman and David A Newman
Screen Gems/Sony, 2012
Think Like A Man is a comedy about the relationships, rituals, and rules among young men and women whose values and attitudes cause conflicts in goals and understanding, until the women stumble upon a book by comedian, radio host, and public speaker Steve Harvey that explains male romantic strategies formed by affectations, deception, irresponsibility, and lust. It is fascinating to have a book be so instructive, though it might have been more interesting to have another kind of text—anything from Plato’s Symposium to Rainer Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet to Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse—be discovered, read, respected, and shared. Have the women in the film considered feminism? The women and men live in a Los Angeles of lights and skyscrapers and bars, clubs, restaurants, gyms, and parks, a city full of games. The Steve Harvey book, contemporary and funny and well-intentioned, becomes a common master text that is interpreted and utilized by all characters to get their way—but genuine emotion breaks through their rigorous routines. As a book of wisdom, it is not original and deep in terms of human understanding but it is accurate in terms of the shallow but constant exchanges—a focus on argument and pleasure and survival, informed by ignorance, lust, and need—that shape many African-American social interactions. It is too easy to look down on those encounters, it is not fair, as the world offers dazzling distraction and formidable obstruction, and little reward or support for more significant virtues.
The film Think Like A Man is more entertaining and satisfying than one would expect from its genre or premise—and that is thanks to a group of attractive, intelligent actors, women and men who deserve more opportunity for demanding, thoughtful, well-conceived work. They are photographed well, with fascination, glamour, respect. In the film Michael Ealy is paired with Taraji P. Henson, and Meagan Good with Romany Malco. Michael Ealy (Their Eyes Were Watching God, For Colored Girls) and Meagan Good (Eve’s Bayou, Jumping the Broom) have sexual charisma to spare: each looks like a great erotic promise. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow, Benjamin Button) burns as an exacting successful woman who expects a man to rise to her level; however, a friend tells her, “All this waiting for better is making you bitter.” She thinks Michael Ealy’s lean, bright-eyed and gifted young chef has more money than he does—and their coupling has a frantic passion—and she is dismissive and enraged to learn his poor state. It is hard to be ambitious without material resources: and the people who judge you and abandon you never realize that their lack of faith and support is part of what keeps you down. Romany Malco is perfect as a player, a roving lover, who says that he has a relationship without sex when what he wants is sex without a relationship; and he finds his heart touched by the attentive, helpful actions of a sexy girl, incarnated by the petite but voluptuous, sharp and sweet Meagan Good, with whom he shares a love of music (the conversation they have in his car about his truncated music career has a natural ease, in which genuine energy and surprise emerge). He and the young lady, at her initiation, talk about childhood, art, and even Plato’s caves—though, unfortunately, we do not hear those conversations, which would have given the film another dimension of thought. Malco was good in Saint John of Las Vegas, as an eccentric insurance investigator. Gabrielle Union is recognizable as a bright girl who met a boy in college, fell in love, and has helped him (Jerry Ferrara) to protect his boyishness—until she realizes, with time, the limits of that: an apartment that looks like a frat house, and no marriage proposal. Jennifer Lewis, whom I saw years ago in The Preacher’s Wife, with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, and more recently in the surprisingly pleasing Dirty Laundry, is older and has a softer, warmer aspect, though she is still playing a bossy mother—whose son’s character, that of a high-achiever but a spoiled boy-man, is understandable by knowing how controlling and nurturing she is. What explains why the other men are as they are, and why men and women are so different from each other? To explore that would be significant.
The characters in Think Like A Man are types that one actually finds in clubs and offices and homes; and it is good that the diversity of personalities and social roles are presented, though it would be better to assume that diversity and the resulting sensitivity and build from there: that is, the film ends where I wish it had begun, with awareness and love and shared purpose. Yet, the film delights the eye and the ear and the heart, and that delight comes out as laughter.
Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist magazine Changing Men, founded and acted as principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader. Daniel Garrett’s work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics.