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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.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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.