It took me a while, but I took advantage of a slow Thursday to hit up Think Like a Man. While there’s no question that the movie has elements of an infomercial, in the moments when Steve Harvey isn’t imparting wisdom from various bar-mounted televisions and the characters aren’t discussing his book, the conversations between the characters feel surprisingly fresh, and the stakes of their relationships feel like the real way people sabotage themselves, rather than invented obstacles.
The movie follows a series of friends who happen to represent helpfully-delineated archetypes, and the women they begin to fall for. Cedric (Kevin Hart) is divorcing, a prospect he insists makes him happy, but is actually the source of incredible misery. Zeke (Romany Malco), a former musicians and a consumate player (he irritates his friends by making omelettes shirtless, which in his case would be a killer morning-after move for a lucky lady) meets Mya (Meagan Good), who is fresh out of a series of hookups with an utter creep played by Chris Brown, and intends to stay celibate until she knows that Zeke is serious about her. Dominic (Michael Ealy), an aspiring chef, begins dating Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a successful career woman and the movie’s worst stereotype. Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) is happily nesting with Kristen (Gabriel Union, who should play a sometime-stoned semi-nerd more often), forgetting to move forward in his career and decorating like he raided the set of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. And mama’s boy Michael (Terrence Jenkins) begins dating single mother Candace (Regina Hall).
There’s also a white character called Bennett, who isn’t featured in any of the movie’s trailers or posters. A happily married man, he hangs out with the main characters at their favorite bar, plays in their thrice-weekly basketball game, observes their romantic travails with tolerant amusement, and periodically dispenses clarifying advice. In other words, he’s a token white friend, a character who serves the same genuinely functional function as sassy black friends and wise black men. Because Bennett’s comfortable watching Oprah (a confession that prompts Cedric to warn him “You gotta say no homo when you say shit like that at a divorce party,” in one of several moments of minor, but sadly realistic-feeling homophobia), which means unlike the men he’s hanging out in a party van with, he’s able to figure out that their girlfriends are relying on Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man for romantic advice. And when Bennett explains, without disclaimer, shame or insecurity that he’s leaving the bar to go home to cook dinner for his wife because, shocker of shockers, he enjoys doing it, it’s a catalyst for the rest of his friends to get their acts together.