The Colors Of Love

By Carl Kozlowski

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Posted April 26, 2012 in Film

Think Like a Man and Five Year Engagement offer different takes on relationships

Love is a universal feeling, something we all share across the divides of race and gender. And yet, Hollywood romantic comedies often feature just one type of cast: good-looking white people. Once in a while, a romantic comedy comes along that features a cast of African-American actors popular within that community, but they never seem to cross over to larger popularity.

This week, the game has finally changed as one big rom-com—The Five-Year Engagement—comes out with an all-white cast of leads. Meanwhile, this is the second weekend for the surprise blockbuster hit Think Like a Man, which features two white supporting characters amid a large and enormously enjoyable cast of black actors who take a rare opportunity to play it to its full potential.

Engagement is kind of a follow-up to the 2008 hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, as it features the same star, Jason Segel, in a role he co-wrote for himself with his Marshall co-writer Nicholas Stoller, who also directed him in Marshall. (They also teamed up to save The Muppets movie last fall.) It also features the romantically sweet spirit that was at the core of the far raunchier Marshall, but this time the risqué humor is toned down a bit as the film focuses on relationships and the hardships of maintaining love across long distances and long periods of separation.

It follows the story of Tom (Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), a San Francisco couple that meets at a costume party and fall head over heels for each other, leading to a quick proposal. Everyone expects them to get hitched rapidly as well, especially because Tom and Violet each have ancient grandparents who might keel over at any time and want to see their nuptials before they die.

The problems arise when Violet gets a fellowship to a college in Michigan and successfully begs Tom for the chance to pursue it. But he can’t stand the cold and opts to wait her out in San Francisco, a fact that gets more complicated when her one-year program gets extended again and again, dragging things out to five years as they each get lonely and tempted to stray and their grandparents keep dropping like flies.

Engagement offers a more low-key and realistic approach to grown-up romance than the typical film from Judd Apatow, who produced this film as well as Marshall. The film features plenty of off-color banter and swearing, but there is nothing here as outrageous as Segel’s full frontal nudity or the infamous “sex wars” scene between jealous couples in adjoining resort rooms.

Some moviegoers might be glad to see Segel mature things a bit, but I preferred the wilder mix of the silly and sublime that Marshall offered, finding this Engagement well meaning and just entertaining enough to be worthwhile, yet bland in comparison.

On the other hand, Think Like a Man takes viewers on a wildly funny and sometimes emotionally engaging ride right from the beginning. Directed by Tim Story, who brought comic zing to the original Barbershop film a decade ago before veering off to direct the Fantastic Four superhero films, then helming nothing the past three years, this is a rare case in which a romantic comedy actually has consistent laughs that hit home and hit hard.

Based on a massively bestselling relationship-advice book called Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man by popular African-American comic and nationally-syndicated radio host Steve Harvey, the film uses several couples in different life situations. Among these are a powerhouse woman with a six-figure salary who won’t give a good-hearted average Joe a shot, another woman who’s been in love with her man since college but is frustrated by the fact he’s never grown up, and yet another woman who’s long been promiscuous but decides to force men to wait 90 days for sex just as she meets a playboy who wants to reform his ways.

Each of these couplings could have easily become clichéd, and the story transitions are sometimes clunky, but as performed by a stellar cast including Michael Ealy, Romany Malco and Gabrielle Union, the characters are filled with life. Mark my words; much bigger roles are awaiting each and every one of the film’s main performers in what could someday be regarded as a 21st century Diner (which launched the careers of Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin and Steve Guttenberg) in terms of sheer star-making power.

Throughout, director Story and his crew make Los Angeles, and particularly its  beleaguered downtown, shine with its full romantic potential, giving the City of Angels a tribute nearly as strong as Woody Allen’s sweeping vistas of New York City in Manhattan. Portraying the city in way that makes viewers appreciate the heart and glow beneath its often harsh surface—just as the film’s young lovers come to discover the true beauty of those they are destined to love. Run to the theater to catch this one.

 


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