If the new romantic comedy “Think Like a Man” seems ultra-clear about its message — don’t hate the player, change the game — that’s because it’s based on the hugely popular self-help relationship book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”
And if author, comedian and syndicated radio and television host Steve Harvey, who’s been married three times, seems an unlikely relationship expert, it’s because he’s not.
“I wrote a book on how men think,” to help empower women, Harvey said during an interview last week in Washington. Because how men think is Harvey’s area of expertise. Men share universal truths, Harvey says, and he wanted to get the ladies to stop talking to other women about men and start talking to men. Or at least to him.
So he broke down his talking points into chapters: “ ‘We Need to Talk,’ and Other Words That Make Men Run for Cover,” and “Men Respect Standards — Get Some.”
In the movie, those chapters are played out on-screen. There’s “The Dreamer vs. the Woman Who Is Her Own Man,” and “The Player vs. the 90-Day Rule Girl.” Five types of men, four types of women. Beautiful cast. Lots of freaky happenings. Let the games begin. And no worries about Harvey’s best-selling wisdom getting lost in translation. The movie’s central conceit is that women who’ve been underserved in relationships buy the book — which gets loving closeups — and confound their men. The men find the book and turn the tables.
“When you take away all the social networking, texting, Facebook, at the end of the day, you’ve got to sit down face to face with this woman and try to make a go of it,” Harvey, 55, says. “What the movie did was it really showed women a lot of the power they possess. At the end of the day, every man knows this: You gotta have one of them to complete the journey. To punch the ticket.”
The movie plays to what men think is funny (or maybe to what a woman thinks that men think is funny . . . ). It has hard language and physical comedy, but still manages to be vulnerable, smart and, surprisingly, loving. It’s a trick that gets pulled off lots in real life but rarely in popular culture. It recognizes that the body part we are most afraid to show first in relationships is our neck. Vulnerability. So we armor up, hurl n-words and b-words while underneath some of us remain unhappily alone, and scared we’re always gonna be that way.
Cultural critic Danielle Belton, who writes “The Black Snob” blog, says the dating game is often “figure it out on your own, play as you go. It’s like you’re lost in a desert you don’t have the skills to navigate, you’re thirsty and you haven’t had a man in forever. You need direction and Steve Harvey gives you that.”
Published in 2009, “Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man” spent 64 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the paperback has been on the list for the past seven weeks.
Michael Ealy plays Dominic, who dreams of being a top chef. His relationship with the hard-driving careerist Lauren (played pitch perfectly by Taraji P. Henson) becomes the one viewers are most rooting for. That’s not in small part due to the optics. There’s something compelling about beautiful women lit and shot beautifully, Ealy says. The cast looks “luminous . . . that beautiful black aesthetic is another character.”
Ealy, who was born in Silver Spring, thinks the film offers valuable insights into relationships and he hopes men and women come away wanting to start a dialogue with each other — and a reckoning with themselves. At the end of the day, Dominic “mans up,” Ealy says, “and finds a way to make his dreams come true.” Not in an outsize, movie-cliche way, but in a baby-steps, do-your-time, put-in-the-work way that too rarely gets celebrated.
For Harvey, the movie thing is still very new. He still tapes his syndicated radio program “The Steve Harvey Morning Show” every day and has been the host of television’s squeaky clean “Family Feud” game show since 2010.
He said he didn’t want his book to turn into some Hollywood buffoonery and that audiences are a lot more open to sophisticated black characters than the movie industry gives them credit for. The people who make movies “ain’t in Mississippi or Georgia or D.C.,” Harvey says. And most of the time, “they fail miserably” at capturing the people from those places.
Though he’s taken some heat from guys who say he’s spilled the trade secrets of manhood, Harvey says its all for love. After his second divorce, which was the subject of messy headlines, Harvey says he was ready to have a revolving door for the women he wanted in and out of his life. Instead, since 2007, he’s been married to a woman who walked into a comedy club he was playing 21 years ago and so stunned him, he told her right then and there he was going to marry her. Men are easy to figure, Harvey says. “Women know it all, they just can’t put it together.”
That, of course, would be where he comes in.
opens in area theaters April 20.