I Think I Love My Wife (United States, 2007)
Upon occasion, cinema can make for strange bedfellows. Consider, for example, I Think I Love My Wife. This relationship comedy marries the sensibilities of French New Wave auteur Eric Rohmer with the youth-friendly, sometimes raunchy humor of Chris Rock. Yet, as strange as it might seem, the unlikely juxtaposition works. Putting aside The Departed, I Think I Love My Wife represents one of the best re-makes in recent years, and it's because rather than merely regurgitating Chloe in the Afternoon, Rock adopts the framework of the story and some of the key ideas and reworks them for a new audience in a different culture. The focus has changed but the essence remains the same.
Richard Cooper (Chris Rock) is a happily married man. His wife, Brenda (Gina Torres), is a great companion, cook, and mother. There's only one problem - they're not having sex anymore. This causes Richard's eyes to roam and his imagination to wander - not that he would ever do anything to endanger his seven years of wedded bliss, or so he thinks until Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington) enters his life. Eight years ago, she was the squeeze of a buddy and he hasn't seen her since then. Now, she wanders back into his circle of friends with the force of a hurricane. He begins meeting her daily for seemingly innocent dalliances - quick lunches, errands, and visits to an auto show. Soon, however, it becomes clear that Nikki's intentions are not so innocent and Richard, despite his resolve to remain faithful, is weakening under her seductive influence.
One of the best things about I Think I Love My Wife is that the film takes the time to develop the three principals beyond the stereotypes that underlie the characters. Brenda is more than just the tired wife who has lost her sexual appetite - she's a woman balancing motherhood and career and she feels that her husband doesn't appreciate her difficulties. Nikki isn't a scheming vixen - she's trying to figure out life and love and what it means to be the oldest women on a club scene dominated by twenty-somethings. And Richard is torn between desire and temptation as represented by Nikki and stability and comfort as represented by his family.
Rock develops Richard as a three-dimensional individual by underplaying the character. It's a smart move by the writer/director/actor, and it humanizes the protagonist. There's chemistry between Rock and both of his co-stars. His on-screen relationship with Torres is companionable and occasionally thorny. He and Washington sizzle, their interaction crackling with unresolved sexual tension. Steve Buscemi and Edward Herrmann have supporting roles as Richard's best friend and boss, respectively.
I Think I Love My Wife is more serious than what one might initially expect from Rock, although elements of his comedy are sprinkled throughout. (The Michael Jackson stuff in particular.) Generally, however, this is a serious (although not somber) effort. It represents a mature movie made with an older audience in mind. However, there are a couple of bizarre missteps that are at variance with the overall tone. In one scene, Richard ingests a Viagra tablet, hoping to boost his sexual performance. The resulting series of mishaps is the kind of thing one might expect from an off-color TV sitcom. Then there's the final scene, in which the characters unexpectedly break into song at a most inopportune time. It is - to say the least - an odd way to end the movie.
Chloe in the Afternoon, made in 1972 as the last of Eric Rohmer's "Six Moral Tales," concentrates on the definition of infidelity. The movie asks a seemingly simple question with a complex answer: Can there be infidelity in the absence of sexual (physical) contact? This question remains in the background in I Think I Love My Wife. Here, Rock is more interested in examining how a modern marriage can survive the pressures that threaten if from within and (especially) without. In doing so, he has crafted a persuasive and intelligent motion picture that should have appeal beyond his core audience. (In fact, the degree to which it will appeal to his target demographic is an open issue.) What is missing in depth and philosophical intent is compensated for with humor and humanization.
I Think I Love My Wife (United States, 2007)
Cast: Chris Rock, Kerry Washington, Gina Torres, Steve Buscemi, Edward Herrmann
Screenplay: Chris Rock & Louis C.K., based on Chloe in the Afternoon by Eric Rohmer
Cinematography: William Rexer
Music: Marcus Miller
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
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