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Rock Does Rohmer

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: “I Think I Love My Wife,” Fox Searchlight, 2007]

Chris Rock and Eric Rohmer are two artists whose names aren’t likely
to appear in the same sentence, or even the same library. But with
nary a warning (or much of an ad campaign), here comes the Rock-directed “I Think I Love My Wife,” a remarkably faithful adaptation of Rohmer’s 1972 “Love
in the Afternoon” (released in the US as “Chloe in the Afternoon”). Fans of both may cringe, expecting another comic’s craven attempt at an Oscar grab, or a Hollywood dumbing down of a legendary auteur’s masterpiece. That
Rock avoids both of these pitfalls is nothing short of miraculous — he approaches the original material with respect and retains its ambiguities while recasting it entirely in his own vulgar (and hilarious) idiom.

“Love in the Afternoon” was the final film of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” cycle, which began in 1962 with the breezy wandering eye tale “The Bakery
Girl of Monceau.” The series is made up of these ogling eyes and the decisive moments when the gap between gaze and flesh could easily be closed. The films are dazzlingly verbal and reassuringly concrete, as each Rohmer protagonist (usually in voice-over) wrestles with the practical consequences of each coupling, while the rich cinematography (the last four by the great Néstor Almendros) traces luminous hands on backs and feet in sand.

The plot of “I Think…” (and “Love”) is simple: Richard (Chris Rock), a
white-collar businessman, grows bored of the regularity of
middle-class life and begins fantasizing about liaisons with random
women he sees on the street. Then an old crush from his school days,
Nikki (Kerry Washington), shows up at his office looking for help with
a new job — and they begin a slow flirtation stoked by regular lunches
that the man keeps from his wife, Brenda. Eventually he has to come to
a decision of whether to engage in an affair or return to his wife.
Chris Rock’s script with long-time collaborator Louis C.K (creator of
the underrated HBO show “Lucky Louie”) remains scrupulously close to the
original, retaining the same narrative structure, use of voice-over, and unblinking view of male lust and the apathy instilled by the routines of marriage. What makes the film more than merely a respectful imitation is how much Rock invests of his own personality and obsessions.

The largest departure from Rohmer’s film is its consideration of race,
which informs every frame. In one of the introductory scenes, Richard
walks to work, saying hi to the only other black employees at his investment banking firm — two custodians he meets on the way to an
elevator. An even more revealing detail occurs off-handedly; when
Richard asks Brenda whether any black children will be at their kids’
play date (they live in a white suburb), he spells out B-L-A-C-K so
the child won’t hear. This is a glimpse of a black middle-class that’s rarely seen on-screen, one that balances acceptance into the white business world with hopes of maintaining ties to the black culture they’re separated from. In Rock’s film, Richard is an outsider in both worlds. Rock gently satirizes Richard’s disconnect from mainstream black culture at a dinner party, as Richard’s friends spout rote criticisms of hip-hop culture and negatively compare black youth to
Jewish youth (do you think Spielberg got expensive rims as a kid?). This isn’t to say the film abandons Rock’s acerbically juvenile wit — there are reams of gut shot vulgarities that lay bare what Rohmer more artfully insinuates. The one truly comic part of Rohmer’s film is a fantasy the lead indulges in, where he possesses a magical pendant that annihilates women’s free will — and a montage follows of him seducing ladies on the street. Rock reprises this daydream, discarding the pendant, and pitches it at a baser level — the id gone wild (and possibly drunk). Instead of asking women to come home with
him, he asks if he can bite their ass and fuck on the spot, screeched
in that child-like way of his, the innocent glee spilling out of the frame. It’s a case of different sensibilities — but both reflecting their own bemused truth.

As impressive as Rock’s accomplishment is (did I mention the Viagara joke to end all Viagara jokes? Well, it’s in there), he still doesn’t compare to Rohmer as a director of gestures (nor does he have Almendros to spruce up his rather drab looking images). The decisive moment in both films occurs with a subtle movement and a glance in the mirror that triggers both leads to make up their minds about their futures. In “Love” this occurs organically as a part of the action, its impact generated by the unexpected resonance such a small motion can have. In “I Think…” the action is slowed down as the viewers’ attention
is forcefully focused on to it. This excessive underlining robs the scene of its force, and turns into a cliché. It’s the only moment in Rock’s film that does a disservice to Rohmer.

Where Rock may have exceeded his model is in the ending, justly
celebrated in the original, but here it’s turned into a euphoric comic
set-piece at turns uproarious and deeply moving, where Richard’s
nostalgia for the slow jams of Peabo Bryson and Gerald Levert unveil
each lovers’ banal insecurities and most basic desires. It’s the
bravest and most idiosyncratic ending to an American film that I can
recall, and by itself could make “I Think I Love My Wife” one of the
must-see films of the year.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.