Film Review: The Female Brain

Unfunny comedy rehashing the ways in which men and women are different.
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In 1992, John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus was published. The best-selling, explain-it-all, much-cited book explored how men and women, respectively, assess the world, behave in general and interact with the opposite sex. Depending on viewpoint, it was an eye-opening revelation, an anti-feminist throwback, a feminist jubilee or just plain dull.

In 2006, along came neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine with The Female Brain, yet another best-seller, putting forth the notion—this one backed up with heady scientific research--that men and women are wired differently. Women are biologically programmed—thanks to their hormonal makeup—to be nurturing, relationship-oriented and emotionally attuned to others, while men are aggressive, territorial and task-oriented.

Now, we have the movie, The Female Brain (Can the musical be far behind?), compliments of writer-director Whitney Cummings (“2 Broke Girls”), which illustrates one more time (Is there no end to this?) how far apart men and women are in every possible way.

It purports to be a comedy (it’s not) as it zeroes in on three couples: Lexi (Lucy Punch) determined to reinvent boyfriend Adam (James Marsden); Lisa (Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family”) and Steven (Deon Cole), grappling with their long-term marriage that has gone stale; and newlyweds Zoe (Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live”) and Greg (Blake Griffin), a duo struggling to define their marital roles while she pursues a high-powered career in advertising.

And then there’s the neuropsychiatrist herself, Julia (Cummings)—the Brizendine stand-in—a workaholic who is studying the brain activity of male subjects as they respond to various stimuli—e.g., pictures of kittens, babies, etc. One of her subjects, Kevin (Toby Kebbell), a lug who scored low on the empathy scale, is smitten and actively pursuing her.

But she’s turned off. Kevin is everything she doesn’t like in a man, and having been hurt by an ex, she has sworn off romance. She’s also hell-bent on becoming as much like a man as possible—or, more precisely, her understanding of what a man is—and when she finally gives in to Kevin’s persistence, allowing him to take her out, she is the first to initiate sex. Not that she has any desire for it, but that’s what men want and she’s aping men. Surprise, surprise, Kevin will have none of it. He likes her too well for that and wants to get to know her first. It’s pretty obvious where this one is going.

Julia is the protagonist and throughout we hear her voiceover commentary, scientifically explicating the scenarios that are unfolding between each couple that prove Julia’s thesis about men and women. Prattling on, she references dopamine, endorphins and pheromones.

And in case the audience doesn’t get it, these sequences are overlaid with black-and-white footage featuring animals or cave men and women behaving in a similar manner. None of the narratives is gripping and all are awash in stereotypes. Some are implausible. Here’s one: Steven and Lisa divorcing because their sex life no longer sparkles and throwing a bash to celebrate their split. But my favorite is Greg coming to blows with a contractor Lisa has hired to repair Greg’s failed DIY job. Greg’s manly pride is wounded and he has no choice but to physically strike out and assault his (perceived) adversary/competitor.

In the end, Julia concludes that men and women are indeed different, but that doesn’t mean that one gender (men) is superior to the other (women). The latter have wonderful, innate skills that deserve to be celebrated. So now I know…

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