You may think love is difficult to define, but there is an answer, according to the film What Love Is, directed by Mars Callahan. Just wait, guys – this stuff is rich: in monologues, gratuitous edits, psychoanalytic clich‚s and mundane visuals.
The film is currently out in theaters and stars Cuba Gooding Jr. as Tom, a lovelorn twenty-something who has very recently become single – on Valentine’s Day. After three years of being with his girlfriend, he has finally decided to pop the question and invites half of the bar he frequents for some liquid confidence to witness the spectacle. However, the only spectacle is Tom’s humiliation upon finding his girlfriend Sara (Victoria Pratt) has left him. She does so through a “Dear John” letter that Tom authenticates in a phone call, which is lengthy, as tacky jump cuts through his various emotional states suggest. He thinks he has been a devoted boyfriend by buying her flowers on special occasions and at unexpected junctures, like Tuesday afternoons, and by telling her she was beautiful everyday. The breakup is completely unexpected and even, as various characters inform us, out of line.
Soon after Tom hangs up the phone, his womanizing friend Sal (Matthew Lillard) walks in and begins to talk about his girl problems, though of course the only problem he has is keeping them out of his hair. Friend after friend shows up, each drunk and toting another archetypical dating philosophy. Besides Tom, the sweet, “normal” guy, and Sal, the womanizing male chauvinist, there is Ken (Mars Callahan), the happily married man who lives upstairs; Wayne (Andrew Daly), the happily engaged flamboyant gay man; and George (Sean Astin), the chubby guy who is too sweet for his own good. These guys are in what seems like their late twenties and have been friends since elementary school, and their personalities are five different shades of night and day. But together, at 2 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, they have convened in one man’s living room to discuss matters of love and the sinister wiles of women. The ensuing monologues reveal what may come as a surprising truth: Men think about their relationships just as much, if not more, than women do.
These monologues are at times enlightening, at others epic and tiring. The audience gets the point the first time Sal delivers his incantations of straight male power – it is no surprise to later discover that he is still in severe pain from a heartbreak at 16, and his narcissistic cries for attention do not pose fodder for sympathy. Each man’s dating philosophy is presented in a fairly courtroom manner: first it is presented in a speech, and every member of the room takes his turn criticizing it. If this script were turned into a play, perhaps an intimacy with the audience would serve it better. The dark set with its severe want of any personality (the entire film takes place in a living room: hardwood floors, black leather couches and dark green walls adorned solely with African masks) could be retranslated with a more exciting, or at least pleasing, d‚cor.
As a film, the plot flops ungracefully. The only mystery is whether or not Sara will take Tom back, and the film’s answer to that is not gratifying after 87 minutes of monologue-filled non-action – and not the zen variety, but the irritating yappy kind. You have probably heard women complain about men keeping their feelings bottled up inside, but after finding out What Love Is, they might prefer it that way.
Though to speak somewhat kindly, those interested in learning the five basic male dating philosophies may save time by slapping down their self-help books and sitting down for this lecture on love.
RATING: 1.5 stars for painfully analytical narcissism and lack of visual reward. With this said, the distasteful qualities are slightly compensated for by the depth of each character’s philosophy. This film is well-thought out, though a bit spoon-fed. If you want to understand men without thinking too much or reading a book, better see this movie or hope it gets made into a play.