Sometimes you have to watch a bad movie in order to crack the mystery of a better one. That mystery is one of competence. You have to expose yourself to a jarring language to understand the subtleties of a more melodic, harmonious one.
You should expect by now, a bad film. But I went to see this because Chris Rock is a very funny man, and he has a fine intelligence beneath his comedy. That’s because he takes the Jewish approach of self-deprecation and in-humour. It’s self-aware, and spans on different levels simultaneously. He laughs at himself while laughing at his peers and blurring the distinction between the two.
That’s fine enough. But this is film, a different game entirely, even within the comedy genre. And given his celebrity status, he’s permitted to make one. In my opinion: a big gamble for the producers.
But you have to respect whoever produced this. This is a black comedian, probably the most popular black comedian in the country. Anyone else in a similar situation wouldn’t get past the studio system without another black-comedy script, poking fun at stereotypes.
So look at this. Look at how sober it is in terms of stereotypes. It has none. In fact, there is a scene that explicetely counters them…Chris Rock is being seduced and the woman in question offers him her ipod and suggest he gets a taste of ‘non-nigga music’.
I’ve followed Chris Rock in interviews and articles, and he has always expressed a sophisticated taste in rap music. He is reputed for being a kind of ‘connaisseur’ of hip-hop. So see how the scene I described above is a statement. Not only is it a stab at the stereotype of unsophistication in rap music, but it’s also a self-critique of the black community. And watch how it’s played out: it’s not even meant to be a joke. So take it seriously.
Now the last thing anyone would expect is for him to base this on a Rohmer film. I have not seen this film but I plan to. Although I must admit I know Rohmer pretty well. His skill is in the suggestion. Everything is inferred, even the situations characters find themselves in are about this minimalism of suggestion. There is no deliberate carnal commitment in the acting, or in the story. Actions are minimal compared to the reflection that preceeds and follows them. The effect is a suspended stillness. We’re touched, but we feel as though we simply brushed superficially. An amplification of the effect takes place because we fill in all the whitespace with our minds, but using the colors he pointed out.
That’s Rohmer. I’m sure Rock understands him but he’s smart enough to know he is in a different world. But not smart enough to stay away from it. So he keeps Rohmer’s situations and fills the empty space with the obvious ‘Chris Rock’ gags. The problem: the gags are the same we find in his standups, without any modulation; a voiceover delivers them.
So let’s recap:
1. A black movie that is not one.
2. An hommage to a master
3. An uninventive, simple, and easy, adaptation.
Maybe next time.