Think Like a Man
Henson stands out in ‘Like a Man’
One hardship of moviegoing is that you sometimes watch an actor and wonder why you don’t see her as much as she deserves to be seen. Taraji P. Henson is that sort of actor.
With her, it’s actually more stressful than that. With her, what you’re wondering is how no one who makes movies can feel her charisma and decide to take a chance on it. I don’t mean seeing Henson and hiring her to take care of Brad Pitt. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” did change her career (she won an Oscar nomination for it). Right now, she’s playing a tough cop on that CBS show “Missing Persons,” in which she can be relied on to bust perps and wear pantsuits with equal parts glamour and grit. But for some of us, that’s not enough.
“Think Like a Man” is a preview of what enough might be. The movie’s just adequate – platitudes with romantic-comedy flavoring. Henson and seven other people – Romany Malco, Regina Hall, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, Jerry Ferrara, Michael Ealy, and the BET personality Terrence J – pair off and act out scenarios from that best-selling Steve Harvey relationship guide “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” (The comedian Kevin Hart self-immolates from the sidelines, while Gary Owen – “black America’s favorite white comic,” says Ebony – keeps his cool and is almost as funny).
Henson plays Lauren, an executive so powerful that she’d rather live way up in an airless room at a Ritz-Carlton than anywhere else in Los Angeles. To me, that’s like going to Dodger Stadium for the golf. But Lauren represents Harvey’s idea that a woman can be only so successful without scaring off suitors. So when Keith Merryman and David A. Newman’s screenplay throws Ealy’s aspiring chef in her way, will snobbery keep her from enjoying all the great sex and postcoital food he cooks?
It’s not much of a part for Henson. None of these characters makes real-world sense. They’re walking chapter outlines. The best material in the movie, which Tim Story directed, has mostly to do with matters of race, social behavior, and class, and less to do with whether Hall’s single mom can seduce Terrence J away from his flamboyantly domineering mother (Jenifer Lewis; who else?) or if Good’s strategically chaste bombshell can tame Malco’s cassanova.
The Costco approach to romantic comedy runs the same risk that some bulk shopping does. What are you going to do with 60 pounds of $10 pastrami? “Think Like a Man” becomes as tedious as “Valentine’s Day,” a movie based on a holiday, or “He’s Just Not That Into You,” a movie based on putdowns disguised as advice. The movie Harvey’s book has inspired happens to feature silly cutaways to the self-contented author, whose inky mustache glistens as much as his bald head. He looks like he’s posing for wallet-sizes at Sears.
Nonetheless, two wonderful things occur in “Think Like a Man.” One is the sexy sight of Morris Chestnut in slow motion. When he makes a cameo here alongside an expensive car, a jolt goes through the theater. Which brings me to the other wonderful thing: The slow motion is aimed at Henson. Her jaw drops to the pavement. The women in the theater laughing at her reaction are actually laughing at themselves.
You really respond to Henson’s assurance. She’s the lone actor permitted to move and speak with confidence. That’s her trademark: self-belief. She gives all her line readings swerving contours and a little extra breath. Her hair’s been cut into a short, sharp bob that she swings with abandon. In all her scenes, she’s flirting. With us, with Diana Ross’s legacy, with the possibility of stardom. Pay attention Hollywood, Henson’s swinging that hair for you.