In Tim Story’s pleasantly zippy adaptation, former comedian Steve Harvey’s self-help book Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man is both guiding spirit and key plot impetus. The book itself is all over the place in the film. It’s reviewed obsessively by the female characters, read as counter-offensive by the males, and fought over in bookstore aisles. It occupies a place in the movie akin to the one the flying saucer occupies in The Day the Earth Stood Still; it lands, and everything changes. This is the battle of the sexes reimagined as competing reading groups.
I haven’t read Harvey’s book, so I can’t tell how accurately it conforms to established romantic-comedy tropes, but the film sure does. It quickly identifies some classic male types, each of whom can be found in the same group of friends: the Player (smooth-talking ladies’ man Romany Malco, whose deadpan seductions are the funniest thing here), the Non-Committer (strangely thin stoner Jerry Ferrara, likable), the Mama’s Boy (starry-eyed pushover Terrence J), and the Dreamer (ambitious, ridiculously good-looking chef Michael Ealy). These four are rounded out with the somewhat-less-fussed-over Happily Married Guy (Gary Owen) and the Even Happier Divorced Guy (Kevin Hart, whose Tasmanian Devil–like energy is a nice kick in the pants whenever things seem to be getting too earnest). The women in their lives, and the women who are about to be in their lives, have to use Harvey’s book to find a way to get what they want out of these guys. The guys eventually discover the book themselves, and respond in kind.
The appeal of filming such books presumably has something to do with the built-in popularity of the source material mixed with the freedom to do anything you want. There are no pesky Katnisses to cast, no elaborate stories to streamline. Really, it’s just a title you’re promising. SO, it’s interesting to note that the film, even though it’s based on a self-help book intended mainly for women, seems to spend more time with the men, maybe because that’s where most of the laughs are. But that’s not to say that the women get short shrift.
Indeed, credit Story and writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman (who also wrote the way-better-than-expected Friends With Benefits) with giving their female characters more motivation (in most cases) than just wanting rings on their fingers (though they do definitely want rings on their fingers). It also helps that they’ve got actresses like Gabrielle Union and Taraji P. Henson doing the heavy lifting of trying to show real emotion while still keeping things light and on the comedy track. Even though the film’s romantic trajectories seem ironclad and unstoppable from the get-go, it finds ways to breathe life into these characters, occasionally acknowledging the messiness involved in trying to find happiness even as it charges headlong toward a series of fairy-tale endings. It may sacrifice spontaneity, but Think Like a Man occasionally gives you the sense that it cares a bit more than your usual dead-eyed rom-com.