REVIEW: Think Like a Man a Rowdy, Charming Battle of the Sexes — With Steve Harvey
Like He's Just Not That Into You and What to Expect When You're Expecting, Think Like a Man is a film adapted from a book that offers advice instead of a story — Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, a bestselling dating guide for women from comedian and TV host Steve Harvey. If the work was actually as life-changing and popular when it was published as the movie suggests, I must have missed all the women fighting each other over copies in the aisles of stores (an actual scene). But despite its cloying genuflections to its source material, Think Like a Man is rowdy and funny and showcases an immensely likable ensemble cast it uses to delineate its war between the sexes.
The film centers around a group of male friends who conveniently illustrate the personality types Harvey outlines in the book. There's Zeke (Romany Malco), the player who's able to sneak past the most bristly of defenses but has no interest in sneaking around, and Dominic (Michael Ealy), the dreamer, whose inability to actually move forward with his goals has driven everyone he's dated nuts. Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara), the non-committer, has been in a nine-year relationship with a long-suffering girlfriend weary of living in an apartment that looks like a dorm room; Michael (Terrence J) is the momma's boy who's still letting his mother do his laundry. Bennett (Gary Owen) is happily married (and, as Jeremy points out, so white that he's basically "clear"), while Cedric (Kevin Hart), the film's narrator, describes himself as even more happily divorced and is forever frequenting strip clubs name things like The Sweaty Crack and The Ass Factory.
Paired up against them are Mya (Meagan Good), Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), Kristen (Gabrielle Union) and Candace (Regina Hall), women who are looking for stable relationships and, in the case of Kristen, a ring. After seeing Harvey on Oprah, the women all end up buying his book and following his advice, to the dismay of the guys they're seeing. There's a lot of potential for this set-up to be a retrograde one about landing your man — Mya in particular decides to adhere to a The Rules-esque regimen of refusing to get into a car unless the door's opened for her and saying no to sex for the first 90 days of a relationship. But the book gets used more as a means of exploring gender power balance than as a way to trick guys into heading down the aisle — the movie certainly firmly believes in commitment and stepping up and that it's no hardship to make a few compromises in order to sustain a relationship.
For the most part, it's the guys in Think Like a Man who have to figure the above out, and it's presented not like a surrender but as a dawning realization — the women in the film are shown to be outpacing the men in terms of ambition and emotional maturity, and are largely waiting for them to catch up. The exception also happens to be the most interesting pairing of the bunch — Lauren, a high-powered Fortune 500 COO who's been unable to find someone who matches her in terms of success and salary, and Dominic, who's good with grand gestures but is a broke catering waiter and would-be chef. Henson and Ealy have an irresistibly off-beat chemistry together, and it's she who has to make the adjustment in learning to deal with dating someone she initially feels isn't on her level. It's tough to buy anyone as phenomenally good-looking as Ealy being a perpetual romantic failure, but Henson's also cast interestingly against type, her giggly warmth going against the typical portrayals of tightly wound workaholics.
It's been a decade since Tim Story directed Barbershop, but his facility with shooting how friends hang out remains unchanged. Think Like a Man divides its time between its various romances and scenes of the characters discussing those love lives with their cohorts, either in a group for the guys, or with the close gal pals each of the women has been given. Some familiar but functional jokes are made about the gender divide — after Candace meets Michael at the book store (you can guess what title she's there to pick up), her account of him to her bestie Lauren ("soulful" and "sensitive") is intercut with Michael's more, er, physical description of her to the boys.
Think Like a Man's set in a sleek, upscale version of Los Angeles, the racial makeup of its ensemble neither a thematic focus nor left uncommented on — it's just another part of the goodnatured banter thrown around between the guys. Hart is made to carry a large part of the comedic burden, and while his motormouthed shtick is initially tiresome, he gets funnier and funnier as the film goes along, shining especially when he insists his friends play what turns out to be a selection of professional basketball players (including Ron Artest and Lisa Leslie) for the right to their court. Chris Brown is among the other celebrity cameos, and actually manages to be amusing as a shifty lothario who creeps out of Mya's bed after a night together and keeps getting her name wrong when he runs into her on the street.
And of course, there's Harvey himself, appearing to deliver lectures on various TV screens. With characters this charming, his appearances feel more like intrusions, but it's entertaining to see the various women try out his recommended lines on their men — "What are your long-term goals?"