Critics are often fond of dismissing movies as being too “sitcomm-y,” but they fail to account for the fact that some sitcoms are actually entertaining. Think Like a Man is very much of the school of loud, one-dimensional characters steeped in gender stereotypes, but against all expectations, it’s a fun, entertaining, and ultimately sweet movie, one of the very rare so-called “urban” films that strives to do more than exploit an underserved demographic. It actually seeks to do well by its target audience, and in the process provide some legitimate crossover appeal. It may share many of the same characteristics of a sitcom, but it’s a sitcom I’d probably watch for three seasons before it wore out its appeal.
Think Like a Man is based on a New York Times bestselling self-help book written by comedian Steve Harvey, but to be honest, I didn’t know that going in. I thought the book was a contrivance written for the movie, so it’s only in retrospect that I found the shameless plugs the book received throughout the movie as annoying. The movie uses talk-show appearances of Steve Harvey discussing his dating-advice book as a framing device, outlining the five kinds of men: The Player (Romany Malco), the Dreamer (Michael Ealy) the Guy Who Won’t Commit (Jerry Ferrara), the Mamma’s Boy (Terrence Jenkins), and the Happily Divorced Man(Kevin Hart). He then outlines the steps that women (Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Gabriel Union, and Taraji P. Henson) need to take to land one of these men: Make the Player wait 90-days before you give up the cookie; require more from the non-committal guy; lower your standards for The Dreamer; and force the Mamma’s boy to choose between his mother and you.
Admittedly, the first act — which plays out like a stand-up act about gender stereotypes — is annoying and dumb. But by the second act, the actors take over, and they manage to imbue these silly dating cliches with considerable personality. Romany Malco is charming and built like a brick shithouse; low-key Jerry Ferrara (Turtle from “Entourage”) manages not to be annoying; Taraji P. Henson and Gabriel Union are too striking and dynamic to be weighed down by bad material; Michael Ealy is sensitive, sleepy-eyed sexiness, and Kevin Hart is … funny. I know that Kevin Hart is very popular, but I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I don’t know enough about Kevin Hart to know whether lame, white Christopher Nolan-loving hipster douchebags are supposed to find Kevin Hart funny or if we’re supposed to look down our noses at him because he represents the further “Two and a Half Men”ing of our culture. I don’t really care what I’m supposed to think; I thought he was great: Equally manic, grating, and fantastically funny.
By the third act, the traces of Steve Harvey are all but removed, and Tim Story — who showed flashes of brilliance in directing Barbershop before stepping outside of his depths with The Fantastic Four — adds a layer of pathos to the satisfying, if not wholly predictable pairings that concludes the film after the Magical Cracker — yes, the stock white character — provides the epiphanic moment of insight.
I liked Think Like a Man, although there’s a buzzkill curmudgeon nagging at me from somewhere in the back part of my brain telling me that this is an intellectually poor opinion and something I should perhaps feels ashamed about. I don’t care. I laughed. A lot. I enjoyed myself. Taraji P.Henson made me a little weak in the knees, and I was swept up by Michael Ealy’s soulfulness. There was something even refreshingly anti-Tyler Perry about it: The women in the film held all the power in the relationships; there were no men wearing women’s clothing for comedic effect; Jesus was not used to justify domestic abuse; and no one died of AIDS (there was even a nice dig at Tyler Perry’s oeuvre). I could’ve done without the lousy gender stereotypes that formed the basis of the film, but as the guy on staff who watches most of the bad movies that get major releases, I can tell you that this one didn’t belong in that category.