A few years ago, it was difficult, if not straight up impossible, to get through a day without a friend, a radio host or a television show talking about Steve Harvey’s relationship advice book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. The book was Harvey’s foray into the realm of “relationship guru,” and women were his followers. Most women fell into one of two camps — those who clung to Harvey’s every word, and those scoffed and dismissed his book, deeming it a sexist tome that laid the burden of establishing healthy, respectful relationships on women, while absolving men of any responsibility.
I fell into the latter camp, and hard. Reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel that Harvey was making the case for women to shoulder the responsibility of male behavior. And so every time a friend brought up Act Like A Lady at a dinner party, happy hour or after-church brunch, I made my disapproval loud and clear. How dare a man be deemed an oracle for women? Why not take men to task for their relationship foibles? And how many men would put a book titled Act Like A Man, Think Like a Woman, on the New York Times bestseller list? Not many, I argued. And I argued about it a lot.
Then, earlier this year, the trailers for the movie adaptation, Think Like A Man, began to air, and while my first urge was to once again roll my eyes, I was actually intrigued. All of our favorite black Hollywood mainstays — Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy, Taraji P. Henson and Jenifer Lewis — rolled up into one comedy about relationships and romance? It was almost too difficult to resist. If only it weren’t based on that cursed book!
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR ‘THINK LIKE A MAN’ HERE:
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But it’s hard to escape the marketing and promotional push behind Think Like A Man. The movie has been plugged on a few popular television shows in recent weeks, including VH1’s Basketball Wives and BET’s Let’s Stay Together. The title song from the soundtrack (by Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo) has spun constantly on urban and adult contemporary stations. And, of course, Harvey himself is continually promoting the film on his syndicated morning show. One could only hope that a film based on a somewhat controversial book could live up to the hype.
Thankfully, the screenwriters and the ensemble cast make Think Like A Man a playful, hilarious, and sometimes touching romp through the relationship woes and wins of five couples.
The cast sparkles, with comedian Kevin Hart providing most of the major laughs, and with cameos from other black glitterati, including Chris Brown and Wendy Williams. And the dialogue proves smart and punchy, with hilarious banter traded between the sexes and between the races (one of the central characters is a Latino man, while another supporting character is white).
The film touched on some the most universal conflicts in modern relationships — dating as a single parent, dating someone at a different income level, negotiating sex, and discussing marriage. And while the script stayed true to the advice given Harvey’s book (there are several instances where the book is directly quoted, by the characters and by Harvey himself), the advice wasn’t treated as a balm to soothe all wounds.
As a woman, it was especially refreshing to see that the plot didn’t rely on clueless women trying to “fix” themselves (see: He’s Just Not That Into You) — rather, both the male and female characters were confronted with their relationship demons. But what may be almost unique about the film is the way it resonates with men. One male movie-goer said he was glad that Think Like A Man didn’t resort to male-bashing (a common complaint of 2010’s For Colored Girls). Rather, he said, the film points out the men’s issues and flaws without casting them as villains or foes. It’s also telling that men made up nearly half the screening audience, laughing just as heartily as (and sometimes louder than!) the women in the theater.
It almost sounds like a wish on a star, but after years of discussions about the failure of black relationships, Think Like A Man may be a film to help bring men and women back to a place of laughter and love. Yes, it sounds very Pollyanna-ish. But it’s also hard to ignore that dozens of couples screening the film walked out smiling and being more affectionate than when they walked in. Whether you’re a fan of Steve Harvey or not, it’s clear that the genius of Think Like a Man lies in one simple thing — recognizing that the need for love is, in fact, universal.