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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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