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'I Think I Love My Wife:' A French Classic Re-envisioned By Chris Rock

March 16th, 2007 9:00am EDT
Chris RockFrom writer/director Chris Rock (The Longest Yard, Madagascar, Head Of State) comes a comedy about a man with the perfect marriage – his wife is beautiful, intelligent and a fantastic mother to his children – but there's just one little problem: he's bored out of his suburban businessman's mind. Despite having it all, Richard Cooper can't help but fantasize about having nearly ever woman he sees. Still, it's only fantasy. Then, one fateful day, an alluring, free-spirited, not to mention stunning, old friend suddenly appears at his office door, putting him to the ultimate test. Just how much is Richard Cooper willing to risk when temptation comes after him? After all, he really does love his wife . . . at least he thinks he does.

Chris Rock stars as Richard Cooper, a happily married man faced with a mind-boggling predicament; Gina Torres ("Alias," "The Shield") is Brenda, his wife of seven years who's not about to let go of the man she loves; and Kerry Washington (Ray, The Last King Of Scotland) is Nikki, the bold bombshell with the power to blow Richard's formerly routine life right out of the water.

Comedian (not to mention family man) Chris Rock has long been fascinated by the angst surrounding the hot-button topics of marriage, fidelity and the battle of the sexes – and has made it prime territory for his unique brand of comedy. So when he recently encountered a film considered a true classic on the subject of married life's frustrations and temptations -- Eric Rohmer's internationally acclaimed Chloe In The Afternoon – he was struck with a typically irreverent thought: why not transform this serious French story of human foibles and moral dilemmas into a far edgier American comedy?

"I like to find things that aren't that funny and then make them funny," comments Rock. A witty, elegant but very, very French character study, Chloe In The Afternoon presented the story of a happily married Parisian man who loved to daydream about other women but never even entertained the idea of actually being unfaithful, until his old acquaintance Chloe dropped by his office and began to seduce him. Part of a series by New Wave cinema pioneer Rohmer entitled "Six Moral Tales," the film probed the fuzzy lines between fantasy and infidelity and between real commitment and the hunger for instant excitement.

Rock thought it would be interesting to do the same, but in his own inimitable and fearless way. Thus was born I Think I Love My Wife. For Rock, the film was a chance not only to tell the humor-filled truth about the pitfalls and pratfalls of married life but also an opportunity to shine a little ray of hope on the state of modern matrimony. "Marriage can be a beautiful, beautiful thing," Rock muses. "Let's root for love."

Of course, he knew that many would laugh at the very idea of comedian Chris Rock taking on French auteur Eric Rohmer, or at least see it as a major risk. "Everybody was 'are you nuts?'" Rock recalls. "But I said, 'I can do this.'"

To bring a fresh, contemporary and decidedly comedic perspective to Rohmer's tale, Rock turned to his frequent collaborator and fellow comedian Louis C.K., who, like Rock, is married with children – and has a lot to say about the potential disasters that can come with that status. Louis C.K.'s own comical take on marriage recently came to the fore in his decidedly frank, controversial HBO sitcom about a working-class couple, "Lucky Louie."

"I sent Louis the Erich Rohmer movie, and he loved it," remembers Rock. In fact, C.K. not only loved the movie but saw in it the potential for him and Rock to really go to town with a subject close to both their savagely funny minds. "This was a great story for us because I think Chris and I both share a certain realizm about marriage. We know that it's a mixture of hope and despair, a constant fluctuation between the two," C.K. observes. He continues: "It's a subject that's very universal and timeless. To me, I Think I Love My Wife isn't really about infidelity – it's about testing one's ability to stay with one of the toughest things in the world, which is marriage with kids. I think married people can look at this material and find a safe place to acknowledge the miseries of marriage and parenthood -- but laugh at it at the same time."

In fact, both Rock and C.K. note that there haven't been very many comedies geared to the current generation that tackle the touchier, more trouble-prone side of marriage. And yet, it is very much on people's minds, especially as more and more young people become parents. "I think guys are starting to take a really long look at who they are as married men and as fathers," says Louis C.K. "So the idea of Chris being in a movie like this was really compelling. The character of Richard thinks he's kind of got life figured out, but then this woman shows up and says 'maybe you're sort of dying early without realizing it. Maybe you're not really living your life.' It's every married man's biggest nightmare."

He adds: "People will always wonder not only whether the grass might be greener on the other side, but also, if maybe there's some candy there, too! It's human nature to be fascinated with whatever you don't have. But I also think in any long-term relationship between husband and wife, people fall in and out of love several times – and that's what Richard and Brenda are going through in the film."

Rock and C.K. faced a unique challenge in adapting Chloe In The Afternoon, which was rife with a 1970s European sensibility and lengthy voice-over discourses. Although they retained the original film's basic structure – a successful businessman with a wonderful wife and family meets an old friend who offers a nearly irresistible temptation – the dialog and situations began to bear the unmistakable marks of Rock's raucous stand-up comedy candor. Certain scenes, including one in which two married couples meet for dinner and the wives are friends while the husbands are not, are derived directly from some of Rock's best-loved routines.

By the time the screenplay was finished, the forthright, fast-paced tone of the piece had become quite stylistically different from Rohmer's existential musings. The story was not only infused with a lot of Rock's humor, but also the bracingly fearless honesty that has set Rock apart among his peers. "When I do stand-up, I talk about things that make people a little uncomfortable, and the laughs a lot of the time are the release of the tension that's in the room," Rock explains. "Hopefully that's what happens in this film."

Although it hadn't been his intention at the outset, Rock eventually reached the realization that the film would become his sophomore directorial effort. "This is kind of an intimate project where I felt I would really need to share a point of view with the director," says Rock. "Working with a stranger on this was just not appealing to me."

While Rock took on the multi-faceted roles of director, producer, co-writer and star, Lisa Stewart – whose credits include co-producing Cameron Crowe's award-winning rock memoir Almost Famous – came on board to produce along with Rock. Stewart couldn't resist the idea of Chris Rock directing a film about the trials and tribulations of modern marriage. "I think Chris brings a really unique and funny perspective to a great, relevant subject," she says. "It's also not your typical Chris Rock comedy, which makes it even more interesting. You might expect this from Woody Allen or any number of people, but not from Chris Rock. This is really adult, sophisticated comedy he's venturing into."

The film's ultimate avoidance of the usual Hollywood romantic fairy tale particularly appealed to Stewart. "I think it's a very honest portrait of a marriage, and it's that same honesty which makes Chris's comedy so unique," Stewart comments. "He doesn't shy away from the warts."

A long-time fan of Rock's work, Stewart thinks his evolution as a comic has brought him to the new place he explores in I Think I Love My Wife. "We've all watched Chris go from being this fearless teenage comedian in the clubs to a married man in the suburbs," she says. "Now, he has to deal with the issues of being a husband and a father that everyone has to deal with, and this is a lot of fun to watch."


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