Single people aren’t allowed to offer commentary on marriage, goes a recurring joke in I Think I Love My Wife, even the couples’ therapist Chris Rock and his spouse see to deal with the problems in their marriage. On the other hand, Chris Rock’s buddy and office mate may offer advice — and what’s more, advice that turns out to be smart and prescient — because even though he’s a serial adulterer who nevertheless says he’s happily married, he is married. He’s one of the inmates at the asylum.
And maybe Chris Rock — who wrote and directed this flick, so I think it’s safe to attribute some of this attitude to him and not just to his fictional character — is right. Cuz I don’t get it. I’m not married, never have been, and don’t imagine the possibility is strong that I ever will be. Part of the real reason is that I cannot bear the idea of giving up and giving in that seems to characterize modern marriage, as represented both in reality and in pop culture… as in Wife: You find someone who’ll just about do and you get married quick before you end up a shriveled old lonely husk, and then you do everything you can to stay married, no matter how miserable you are or how much of a mistake you come to realize you’ve made, because god forbid you end up alone. Oh, and you’ll never have sex again.
Geez. And people think singles are pathetic. At least when I’m not having sex I don’t have to share the bed with someone I can’t stand to hear breathing.
So I am not the audience for this flick. I don’t need a tortured justification that the choices I made are the “right” ones no matter how unhappy I am about them. I don’t need the release of laughing at my own suffering. Cuz that’s what Wife is: a pat on the back, half consolation and half approval, for everyone who did what we’re “supposed” to do, and got married and consequently got miserable. Just one more example of Hollywood reinforcement of the status quo, cuz imagine the chaos if we all stopped doing what we’re “supposed” to do. It might be mass happiness instead of mass conformity.
The title says it all, with a kind of pathetic grandeur: Chris Rock (Madagascar, The Longest Yard) thinks he loves his wife. He’s not sure, but it could be the case. Rock’s investment banker Richard Cooper comes to this glorious realization only at the end of the film, after he’s been sorely and long tempted by seductress Nikki (Kerry Washington: The Dead Girl, The Last King of Scotland) into straying from his marriage vows. His wife, Brenda (Gina Torres: Serenity, The Matrix Revolutions), is gorgeous and smart and a great mother to their two young children, but she won’t wear lacy little panties and constantly turns him down when he wants sex. A few nods are given to the concept that both halves of this couple are at fault for the boredom in their relationship, but we don’t see him doing anything to drive them apart and drive him to turn to another woman for some attention: it’s all the wife’s fault. But the underlying misogyny of the film is only one of its problems.
Of course, men don’t come across too well, either. Nikki is a child, a wheedling manipulator in a push-up bra — she’s hot and she’s needy? what man could resist? That could have been comically sad, and yet for all that this is allegedly a comedy, we’re not even invited to laugh, even out of derision, at how easily maneuvered Richard is. It’s no newsflash that a beautiful woman can get away with whatever she can get away with, but there’s little insight or depth into what drives people of either gender to do what they do here, beyond the desperate desire to never, ever be alone.
But that’s the Hollywood way, too. In America, “I think” doesn’t mean “I ponder” — it means “I don’t know if…” Which is why Rock has taken Eric Rohmer’s classic 70s French film Chloe in the Afternoon and turned into a sitcom. This was his intent — Rock’s “irreverent” job here was to “transform this serious French story of human foibles and moral dilemmas into a far edgier American comedy” (or so the press notes for the film inform me). Rock’s idea of “edgy”? Jokes about boners, Viagra, and how nasty rap music scares white people.
Give yourself a pat on the back, half consolation and half approval, if you laugh at those bits because you think you’re supposed to.