Who knew comedian Chris Rock could direct a solid drama? Sure, I Think I Love My Wife might be classified as a comedy, but I know a drama when I see one. The doomed future of a sexless marriage held together by strings of loyalty is a reality known all too well by some couples. The film casually dips its hands into the topic not by portraying tragic figures, but with characters who are relatable and empathetic, played with a surprising splice of honesty and realism…sort of.
I Think I Love My Wife is one of Chris Rock’s “better” movies, and unfortunately that’s not saying much. Like other comedians, Rock has repeatedly fallen victim to the “the movie rut”. His much loved comedy in his stand-ups seem to never quite translate to screen. In this effort, Rock seems to have hit a home run by co-writing a screenplay that deals with the same topic he openly jokes about: marriage. Rock even admits in the commentary that most of the jokes in the film were taken directly from past stand up acts. But even though the comedy here is essentially “Rock”, it’s also what drags the movie down to what could have been an otherwise good drama.
Rock plays Richard Cooper, a successful businessman who lives with his loving wife (played by Gina Torres) and two children in a beautiful home in the suburbs. Unfortunately, Richard is bored with his life, his wife won’t have sex with him, and he spends most of his free time daydreaming about random women he passes on the street.
One day in walks Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington), a sexy friend of a friend who entices Richard and tempts him to cheat on his wife. Richard is fascinated by Nikki because she represents his past before he surrendered to the world of diapers, mini vans and endless monotony.
I Think I Love My Wife was originally adapted from a French film called Chloe in the Afternoon. When Rock saw the French film, he figured it would also make a good, interpreted comedy. This was his first mistake.
After writing the script and pitching the idea to several studios, when it came to casting the lead instead of casting a “Denzel Washington type” (Rock’s words, not mine), he opted to casting himself in the lead, instead. This was his second mistake. On the surface it seems I Think I Love My Wife would be the perfect vehicle for Rock, but there are too many factors in the film that work against it as a comedy, a lot having do with Rock and his character.
Its biggest flaw is Rock as an actor. Unlike in past films where Rock mostly plays himself, Rock actually makes an attempt to become someone else. When the film begins, there is something odd to Rock’s narration. After a minute or two, it becomes clear the narration sounds odd because Rock isn’t being Rock. I guess it’s not fair for me to critique the acting skills of someone who’s never been a real, bonafide actor, but I Think I Love My Wife is not like Rock’s role in the film, Head of State. In I Think I Love My Wife the character of Richard is a fully dimensional, sympathetic, flawed human being. Rock’s limited acting ability can’t fully convey this and the numerous “Rock-isms” peppered throughout the film only show Richard doing and saying things that are uncharacteristic.
For example, in one scene where Richard goes to a club to wait for Nikki, the scene shows Richard looking out of place and apprehensive as he sits at a bar and waits. It then cuts to Richard dancing around and becoming the life of the party. When Richard is told Nikki isn’t coming, he looks embarrassed for showing up and runs out of the club. The problem with this scene is Rock sacrificed Richard’s character for the sake of the joke. When Richard shows up to the club, it’s obvious from his dress and demeanor that he feels awkward and old amongst the young, vibrant lifestyle he no longer identifies with. Although the scene with Richard getting down to D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” is sort of funny, the behavior is too unlikely for the character.
But there are a few jokes that work. Well, the scene where Richard fakes an argument with his wife to get out of the house is one. The scene where Nikki and Richard throw dollars out a window and watch as the people below tackle each other for it is another. But mostly the jokes either fall flat or feel out of place, especially in certain scenes where it gets too jokey. In the commentary, Rock admits that in a scene involving Viagra, he goes too far.
The performances of the leading ladies, Nikki and Richard’s wife, are both played exceptionally by Washington and Torres. Washington is especially impressive as the complex, troubled Nikki and her performance makes you wonder why she doesn’t get better roles. The DVD is also packed with your usual goodies. Rock’s commentary is actually quite informative and not as funny as you might expect it to be. The blooper wheel is a bit disappointing with few bloopers actually on it. The short documentary on the casting of the movie is also a disappointment as it seems to only skim the surface before ending two minutes later.
In a broad sense, I Think I Love My Wife has all the right ingredients. When you strip away all its jokiness and “Rock-isms”, there’s actually a good film hiding in there. But see it for the drama, not the comedy.