Chris Rock has often said he admires the work of Woody Allen, and in Rock’s latest film, “I Think I Love My Wife,” the comedian tries to channel a very “Allen” vibe. Like Allen, he writes, directs, and stars. And the story is a classic Allen-esque set-up, as a married man wonders whether he would be better off single. But, as with the lesser Allen films, it never achieves a heightened level of dialogue or insight.
Based on a 1972 Eric Rohmer film Chloe in the Afternoon, in this version, it is “Nikki” who presents temptation by repeatedly visiting a married man at work and insisting on less-than-innocent lunches. Richard Cooper (Rock) is a family man who excels in business but finds his personal life intolerably “boring.” He questions the fairness of fidelity and laments the lack of intimacy with his wife. When Richard runs into Nikki — an old friend whose only purpose in life appears to be garnering attention from men, married or not — the rest of the film is not hard to guess.
The concept of a rumination on temptation, especially one that deals with the notion of what it really means to cheat (Nikki and Richard remain platonic; is it “cheating” even if no sex is involved?) is not a terrible idea in itself. As far as realizing the idea, Rock does an adequate job of portraying the ways in which Richard and Nikki’s “platonic” relationship becomes detrimental to his wife and family. Even though no sex is involved it forces Richard to concoct elaborate lies and detracts attention from his other relationships. The film ultimately fails to make Nikki an enticing character. She is just a one-dimensional manipulator. This removes the drama, the danger, and the interest from the story. With no charm in her personality, it becomes painfully clear how heavily her controlling personality highlights the deficiencies of others (most notably, Richard and his inability to say “Go away”). The near entirety of the film has audiences accompanying Richard to crossroad after crossroad, only to watch him make bad choice after bad choice. The overwhelming sense is that Richard is likeable, but sympathy wears thin as it becomes obvious that he’s not a victim of Nikki’s persistence as much as he is a victim of his own lack of resolve.
Parents should know that although the film seems intended to be quirky, the very adult themes of sex and lust are crucial aspects of both plot and dialogue. Rock’s well-established observations on racially determined cultural stereotypes are also extremely prevalent. Viewers should know that the n-word appears repeatedly in conversational dialogue.
Families who see this film should discuss the concept of marriage and what it can mean for a couple to be in a committed relationship. At which point did Richard’s relationship with Nikki become a threat to his marriage? Can the moment be pinpointed to a specific incident, such as when Richard lies to his wife about how long it’s been since he last saw Nikki? Or is it more general, such as the fact that spending time with Nikki begins to have a negative effect on his job performance and leads him to be argumentative with his wife and friends? Richard is also depicted as being devoted to his children; parents might discuss how this devotion could translate into better choices, such as focusing on providing a safe atmosphere at home and building a more positive relationship with his wife.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Alfie, the story of a womanizing Londoner that first came to theatres in 1966 and has since been remade to star Jude Law. Families might also consider watching any of the many available Woody Allen films, including Manhattan and Stardust Memories, which focus on sex, fidelity, and relationships.