I Think I Love My Wife

dir: Chris Rock
[img_assist|nid=747|title=Who does he think he's kidding?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=244|height=348]
Who does Chris Rock think he’s kidding?

Watching I Think I Love My Wife reminded me, more than anything else, of two things. One is the subject of marriage as it appears in much of Chris Rock’s stand-up material. The other is the extent to which Rock must be treading dangerous waters in order to desperately convince his wife that he’s not sleeping around. Really.

Back in the sixties, notorious womaniser and acclaimed director Federico Fellini, having been caught out one too many times by his long-suffering wife Giulietta Masina, decided to make a curious little film called Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli spiriti, 1965). In this curious flick, he cast Giulietta as the main character Juliet, the long-suffering wife of a notorious womaniser and director, who tires of her husband’s infidelities and their pretentious lifestyle. She initially flirts with the idea of adultery-as-revenge, but ultimately finds more fulfilment in simply achieving freedom away from her bastard husband.

I’m sure there were a million other things going on as well, but in a really pathetic way, it was almost like watching Fellini beg his wife to not sleep around despite his constant cheating on her, at the same time as using the existence of the flick itself as an apologetic bouquet of flowers to pacify her.

In a substantial reversal, Rock’s flick, based as it is on the French flick Chloe in the Afternoon, is like watching Chris Rock trying to convince his real life wife that though he’s tempted, he doesn’t cheat on her. Truly ruly, sweetheart, I wuv you too much to do that.

This from the guy who once humorously asserted that men were essentially as faithful as their options. That once they get passed a certain age, men might stop pursuing sex, but if it drops in their lap, so to speak, they find themselves powerless to reject it.

Now, maybe he’s right, and maybe he’s wrong. All I know is that some men, like Rock, get it thrown at them on a daily basis. And unless he’s got some “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” agreement with his wife, I just know he’s cheating on her.

Still, we shouldn’t confuse movies and comedy for real life. The point is he’s gone to a lot of trouble, including directing a film he stars in, in order to make a not very convincing point.

Lest someone thinks that I scoff at marital or relationship fidelity, think again. I entirely see the virtues of loyalty and such, and disagree with Rock insofar as his idea about men being as faithful as their options running up against the other contributing factor: a guy can get to the point where the ‘offer’ provided by someone outside of their relationship for some nasty sex can comfortably be rejected.

It’s not because of maturity, or the depths of their love, or the fear of losing the love of their partner, or the threat of destroying their relationship or any of that crap. Everyone knows (yet few will admit) that sleeping around and getting caught out in the end is a fictional construct: considering the short amount of time required to technically ‘cheat’ on your partner, and the ease with which it can be done in the big city, it can occur an endless amount of times with no more implications than the guilt of the shlubs involved.

The real reason is that most sensible guys reach the point where they realise that it just isn’t fucking worth it. And balancing a relationship with a partner and a lover just means you’ve multiplied the downsides without maximising any of the advantages. It’s hard enough, after all, to keep one woman happy, let alone two.

All this and more, including the eternal questions of race and gender relations in contemporary America, are the subject of I Think I Love My Wife, which is a wonderful sentiment but a terrible title for a flick.

Rock plays Richard Cooper, a married bank executive with a comfortably middle-class existence and a wife who won’t sleep with him. Into his life comes a woman he hasn’t seen since before his marriage, the flirtatious Nikki (Kerry Washington), who clearly wants to have sex with him.

It’s not like he needs any additional reminders of what he’s not getting. His daily commute to the city gives him many an opportunity to fantasise about his female fellow commuters, whose very existence proves tantalising. He, and I’m sure this will come as a shock to all male readers, routinely fantasises about having sex with the random women he sees.

Totally unrealistic, I know. But the thing is, it’s really starting to bother Richard, it’s building to some kind of peak. And with this manipulative woman Nikki around, the temptation to stray is proving harder to resist.

Of course, this isn’t the first flick to contend that when men think with their dicks, they make stupid decisions. It’s possible to understand Richard’s position initially, but when Nikki gets him involved in progressively more idiotic or dangerous situations, it becomes a bit hard to believe that he still wants to, to use the vernacular, tap that ass, instead of getting a restraining order on the crazy bitch’s ass. Again to use the vernacular.

Maybe if the prospect of sleeping with Nikki, or the potential daydream of what life would be like with Nikki as opposed to his actual wife (played painfully by Gina Torres), were remotely attractive, then I could have seen what the essence of his dilemma was. I understand that men wish they could sleep with women outside of their marriages with no repercussions. I get that. I just couldn’t see how the prospect of sleeping with that insane, bony harridan was an even remotely attractive prospect.

Rock spends as much time revealing the extremely shallow thinking behind these issues, because not a single cliché goes unturned for the duration. It’s light, and slight, but it doesn’t really have that much to say about anything.

As interesting as its gender politics and “what goes on in the mind of a married man” stuff is (which it isn’t), the flick is as much about class and race as it is about anything else. Bitching about not getting laid is less interesting than the representations of affluent African-Americans and the prejudices that come with being middle class and looking down on poor people.

Well maybe not the latter, but there is a scene where two of our main characters are dropping money out of the window of a skyscraper in order to watch people scurry to pick up their discarded dollar bills. Nikki calls it ‘feeding the fish’, and I suspect you could write up an entire volume of identity politics paraphernalia on this flick alone that would put Maya Angelou and bell hooks to shame.

Maya, you’re a national treasure.

Just wanted to get that Simpsons line in.

Look, this flick falls neatly into this subgenre of American films that acts as an antidote to the projection that African-Americans, continually represented as criminals in most flicks, can live lives just as mundane and excruciatingly dull as that of ‘white’ Americans. In these flicks (I’m thinking of a stack of them that usually had Morris Chestnutt, Vivica A. Fox or Taye Diggs in lead roles) the protagonists are comfortably middle class professionals dealing with life and love in a manner that suggests they can be just as mundane as the rest of America.

Of course, they can’t stray too far away from the recognisable, or they’ll lose too much of their potential audience. Which is why you still have to have scenes where people discuss Michael Jackson or when a violent thug bellows “thug life” whilst attacking the cops.

Sure, it’s banal, and sure, I’m not really the intended audience. I still enjoyed it to an extent, since I really enjoy Chris Rock’s as a stand-up, and listen to his routines fairly often on my iPod. And sure, it’s all lies, because we all know Rock has the loyalty of an alley cat. But it wasn’t a horrible way to spend 90 minutes, with a fair few funny moments.

And, you know, any flick that goes some way towards convincing the ladies that we are capable of fidelity, despite the fact that we are dogs, helps all the brothers out there. Ah, romantic comedies: they’re the visual equivalent of rohypnol that the ladies are just so eager to lap up hidden in their hot chocolate.

6 times if marriage was as empty as depicted here, no wonder shows like Jerry Springer and Cheaters are so popular.

“I can’t wait to show you these drapes.” – I Think I Love My Wife.