Chris Rock's sophomore directorial effort, I Think I Love My Wife, is also his first independent film (well, if Fox Searchlight counts), and so he's justifiably concerned about how his fans will react to the emotional drama/comedy. Especially since it's adapted from Eric Rohmer's French classic Chloe in the Afternoon, which is, you've got to admit, basically the antithesis of everything we've come to expect from Rock.
"If it was up to me, I wouldn't tell anybody this was based on anything," he says during a recent interview at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. "There just seems to be something pretentious about that. 'Yeah, right, Rock's doing Rohmer.' It sounds like a joke."
When asked how he discovered Rohmer's 1972 flick about a married man with kids who is tempted by an old friend's ex, Rock explains, "It was a movie I kind of bumped into in the video store. I watched it and called (my co-writer Louis C.K.), and he watched it, and we both kind of thought it could be funny.
"You ever have that thing where you're in the passenger seat and you're 'pressing on a brake' even though you're (not driving)? That's kind of how I watch movies sometimes.
Like, 'Ooh, that could've been funny. Oh man, that could've been really funny right there!' So I saw the original, and I saw at least five or six spots for big jokes right away and thought, "Woo, I can do this."
Rock won't dare say the original didn't live up to its potential, though. It's already crazy enough imagining Rock — a comedian who once joked about prisoners tossing each other's "salads" with jelly — being the lover of French cinema. But he is.
"The original is a masterpiece, but it's not a comedy," he insists before repeating, "It's a masterpiece, but it's a whole other movie. It's like a cover song. There's the Carpenters' "Superstar" and there's Luther Vandross' "Superstar." They're both hit songs and they have the same words, but they're totally different pieces of art."
I Think I Love My Wife, like Chloe in the Afternoon, tackles the struggle of surviving a marriage, with Gina Torres playing Rock's wife and Kerry Washington playing the beautiful vamp who makes him question whether or not he loves the mother of his children. All of the elements are there to suggest he does, but does that equal love?
"(It's) not just about marriage," Rock points out. "It's about relationships, especially in America. In a country where you're not worried about food or shelter, you get bored with everything. Everything. When you first got this job (as a journalist), you loved it. You called up people and you bragged. Now you're like, 'They're flying me where? Who? Chris Rock? Uh, OK.'
"You fall in and out of love with this job all the time, and that's what a relationship is. Anything that's supposed to last forever, you're going to fall in and out of it. It's just we get scared when it's love. 'What's wrong?' Nothing's wrong. It's just normal."
Aside from his observations on the struggles of making a marriage work over the long term — a struggle he, of course, goes through himself as a married man with children — Rock couldn't help offering more insight into modern race relations — this time from the point of view of an upper-middle-class black family who are pretty much the only blacks in their neighborhood.
They struggle to find other black kids for their own to play with and debate about the use of the "N" word at home. The result is more subtle than we're used to from Rock, and maybe because he opted to not draw attention to this struggle. It's just a part of his characters' lives, like it is his with his family.
"That's just who I am," he says. "It's what I go through every day. When I watch Lost in Translation, I go, 'That's what it feels like to be black and middle class.' It's like being in a different country, like you don't belong to anything."
There is also the fallout from fellow comedian Michael Richards' onstage breakdown to consider, though, which has prompted everyone from Al Sharpton and Paul Mooney to come out against the use of the "N" word. New York City has even passed a symbolic resolution banning the use of the word. Rock's face messes up when asked if he'll stop using the epithet, too, which has been a staple of his stand-up act and his movies for so many years. I Think I Love My Wife is no different.
"It's me," he says. "(That's like saying) 'I can't believe James Brown was screaming!' " ©