The film is based on Steve Harvey’s bestselling advice guide, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. But rest assured, the movie isn’t an instructional guide. It largely centers on a group of men and how the women who like and love them get them to be at their best, by taking Harvey’s advice. It’s similarly adapted for the screen like another best-selling advice guide, He’s Just Not That Into You, but, you know, with Black people.
From unfortunate dating experiences, female audiences might recognize some of the “types” of guys in the film. There’s the man who wants nothing but sex (Romany Malco), the Mama’s Boy (Terrence J), the Big Dreamer with no plans or money (Michael Ealy), the Peter Pan (Entourage’s Jerry Ferrara) and the Bitter Friend With Bad Advice (Kevin Hart). Lady-viewers may also see a bit of themselves in each of the female characters. There’s the Workaholic (Taraji P. Henson), the Pushover (Meagan Good), the Wannabe Wife (Gabrielle Union) and the Single Mom (Regina Hall). The pairings in the movie quickly could have crossed from comical to stereotypical, but don’t. For instance, though Ferrara (a.k.a. The White Guy) plays Union’s mate, there’s never a commentary in the film that their relationship is interracial. Their conflict isn’t because Gabby Got a White Guy, but because her grown-man boyfriend lacks ambition, has a weed habit and plays videogames. (Admittedly, their relationship also could come off as a sly dig at all the hype over Black women and interracial relationships, as if to say, “So, you know, White guys come with baggage too.”)
TLAM also impressed me by getting good actresses out of the roles they’ve been typecast for. Good’s been a sexpot/bad-girl hybrid so often that fans started to believe that’s who she was in real life. And while she plays that role well (hence all the casting), TLAM shows her as a well-intentioned good girl who’s been getting it wrong (similar to Paula Patton in Jumping the Broom). Union and Henson, who both can get bogged down playing feisty, tough-as-nails characters, get a chance to relax a little and show some much welcomed vulnerability.
Too often, when there’s an examination of Black relationships, it’s all gloom and doom and more drama than any one pair should handle. TLAM manages to take on our love lives with complexity and a light-hearted touch. It highlights some of our struggles, laughs at the mistakes we make along the way, and sends audiences out of the theater with a smile.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk