Release Date: February 9, 2018
Director: Whitney Cummings
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 Minutes
There is an eternal caveat that runs through everything resembling a joke in The Female Brain – which, if you cannot get on board with the entirety of the comedic exercise – the film becomes incredulous. The debuting film from comedian/writer-turned-director Whitney Cummings, based no less on a neuropsychiatry book about gendered interpretations of brain functions (I am laughing already), plants a flagpole before the audience at the beginning that states in bold, clear lettering: “MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT.”
In its reductive scope to base all its dialogue, character traits and interactions solely around this facile, baseline distillation of the point of the romantic comedy genre, The Female Brain ceases being a film and better resembles, in its writing at least, one of those “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” tear-away calendars you purchase at a mall kiosks for an office Secret Santa.
So fully does gender difference color this drab romantic comedy that, even with four disparate stories sharing the screen time, they all essentially boil down to the same tired talking points and rom-com cliches that even a technically scientific foundation couldn’t salvage from being redundant.
Cummings, as lead as well as director, plays the stand-in for Louann Brizendine, the neuropsychaitrist who did the study and wrote the book on which the film is haphazardly based. Her role is to narrate over the three couples (her test subjects) whom we routinely check in on and interrupt them to subject us to these miniature lectures, complete with diagrams and stock footage about how the chemicals, hormones and architecture of the human brain are the predominant causes of the actions we see played out in their respective relationships.
Through a very dry and uninspired attempt at adapting Brizendine’s text into a functioning fiction, the need for these biology refreshers with every emotional interaction between the film’s characters only undercuts the potential effectiveness of its genre adherence. Even with some medical terms sprinkled over its rudimentary characters, The Female Brain is still, in essence, a romantic comedy, and these interjected tangents about the mechanics of behaviour, attraction and romance seems antithetical to getting us invested in the tales forced through this text.
The stories are of three couples and Brizendine’s own foray into relationships, despite her conceited obsession to list off every chemical from her amygdala to her cortex that influences her behavior. The couples are disparate enough in scenario and the structure, despite Cummings’ practically pedestrian direction, works to an extent.
Each deals with a universal problem in their respective relationships, be it sex, communication, etc., and this intersects with the more personalized theme that defines that relationship. Zoe and Greg, for example, have finance at the center of their marital strife, with him being an NBA player (played by Detroit Pistons’ Blake Griffin) and her resisting the temptation to live off his income and start her own business.
They bicker, of course, but because the script and source material, all their dialogue is tinged with the notion that gender roles and expectations define them. They, or any of the other couples who fill out this cast, feel less like characters and more like empirical data meant to prove a flimsy thesis on the inherent difference of men and women. That is, however, the film at its best because it is at its worst when it’s rehashing rom-com clichés and exhausting cheap, observational comedy as though Cummings and fellow writer Neil Brennan are doing a tight five on the Battle of the Sexes.
Cummings, a normally enjoyable stand-up, is lost playing Brizendine as this uptight professor who literally micromanages her brain chemicals as to no longer require the assistance of a romantic partner. It’s a horrendous caricature of the overworked woman character that gets paired up with one of her test subjects and an equally perfunctory approximation of a masculine man in Kevin (Toby Kebbell) – who, with his trucker hat, handyman skills and rudeness – is again more a proof of concept than an actual functioning character.
Their romance, such as it is, becomes predicated on her misreading of his character based on his brain scans and her theories of male behaviour because (stop me if you’re not following), gender and behavior are not so easily definable. There is so little to this film, despite its multifaceted stories, that there are no agreeable variations of the theme or leitmotifs to speak of to give this film legs. It is an hour and a half of blankly restating its thesis, while the impending conclusion – which problematically kinda refutes the very need for Brizendine’s study to begin with – spoils itself well ahead of the film’s limp climax.
I do have sympathy for Cummings and Brennan because adapting a methodical comparative study on male and female brain functions into a workable romantic comedy scenario is no easy task. Yet, The Female Brain seems like the CliffsNotes of Dr. Brizedine’s greater work and condensed into a romantic comedy schema, which desperately attempts to reject it. The laughs are stifle; the characters placeholders for theories; and the the science is not particularly interesting in how it is delivered.