In I Think I Love My Wife, Chris Rock updates Eric Rohmer’s French marital saga Chloe in the Afternoon. It is a lightweight adaptation, but nevertheless an inspired stretch for a comedian who has never shied away from challenging his audience.
If only the movie felt as consistently edgy as the performer. In a film he both co-wrote and directed, Rock explores love’s variances with the delicacy of a jackhammer. There are moments of raw intimacies sprinkled throughout. Yet, Rock wants I Think I Love My Wife to be both a thoughtful art film and coarse sex comedy and, unfortunately, it makes for a clunky mishmash of ideas.
The film opens in suburbia as Rock’s Richard shares a workday morning with pleasant schoolteacher wife Brenda (Torres) and their two kids before heading off to his successful banking job. Everything’s great, right? Wrong. Richard is bored, his sex life is non-existent, and he finds himself tempted by old friend Nikki (Washington).
Nikki, who we know is bad news by her cigarette smoke, sees Richard’s wavering commitment and preys upon it. Richard is stimulated by Nikki’s intrigue and begins to transform like Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty. Richard’s marriage begins to fray, and he must decide where his values lie.
I Think I Love My Wife is a maddening experiment. Each time the film appears to gather itself, particularly during a dinner profiling banal marital chat, the wheels come off for an extended Viagra gag.
In retrospect, maybe writing the film with comedic chum Louis C.K. wasn’t Rock’s wisest move. Richard’s voiceovers and fantasies come off as Rock’s standup act, which in itself is engaging, but those moments clash here with broader ideas.
Aside from the moral dilemma at the heart of the film, there is an absorbing subplot about Richard’s struggles as a middle-class African American, sometimes appalled by hip-hop culture, sometimes attracted to it. The meat is there for I Think I Love My Wife to succeed as an innovative take on virtue, marriage and adulthood. But, the film is too sophomoric to realize its potential.
Richard thinks he loves his wife, and Rock thinks he loves being a filmmaker, but this film doesn’t provide a clear-cut answer to either.