Brainy rom-com finds the funny in battle of the sexes
The Female Brain
Starring Whitney Cummings, Toby Kebbell, Sofia Vergara, Cecily Strong & James Marsden
Directed by Whitney Cummings
In theaters Feb. 9, 2018
What goes on in your head?
Everything, according to science—and according to this new movie comedy from the actress and comedian who created, executive produced and wrote for the hit TV sitcom 2 Broke Girls.
Whitney Cummings, making her directorial debut, stars as no-nonsense neurologist Julia Brizendine, researching the biochemistry and behavior of women. Her character is based on real-life scientist and neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, whose 2010 books The Female Brain and The Male Brain examined hormonal-based differences between men and women.
Julia’s research, she tells an audience at a presentation, seeks to understand the way ancient, hardwired chemical and electrical processes in the brain “affect—and sometimes sabotage—our relationships.”
The large ensemble cast illustrates many of the book’s heady ideas in humorous ways, like how testosterone makes men feel aggressive and territorial, or how a rush of pheromones can cause women to make regrettable choices on a date, or in choosing a mate.
Sofia Vergara (of TV’s Modern Family) and Deon Cole (Black-ish and Angie Tribeca) portray a married couple who’ve lost their romantic spark. Can they get their love life back on track? Zoe (Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong) is trying to get her marketing career off the ground at an ad agency headed by a real heel (the movie’s co-writer, Neal Brennan); she’s married to superstar athlete Greg (real-life Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin), temporarily sidelined by injury and now a bit unmoored, unsteady and unsure of how to use his downtime.
All-American Adam (James Marsden, Westworld) and his British girlfriend, Lexi (Judy Punch), can’t quite overcome their cultural divide; she never gets any of his references to junk TV or fast-food TV commercials, and he can’t adjust to how—or understand why—she keeps trying to change him.
And then there’s Dr. Julia (Cummings), who meets all her emotional needs by keeping the right synapses firing and regulating her chemicals through diet and rigorous attention to romance-free routine. At least that’s what she tells her assistant, Abby (Beanie Feldstein, also in Lady Bird and recently on Broadway opposite Bette Midler in Hello Dolly—and FYI, she’s actor Jonah Hill’s sister). But Julia’s brain gets an unexpected buzz when she meets a handsome new study participant, the unreconstructed handyman Kevin (Toby Kebbell, who played the villainous Messala in the 2016 Biblical epic Ben-Hur).
There are cameo appearances, as well, by Marlo Thomas, Jane Seymour, Will Sasso and Ben Platt, who won a 2017 Tony Award for starring on Broadway in Dear Evan Hanson.
As director, co-writer and lead actor, Cummings juggles everything with confidence and craft, jazzing up the traditional movie-comedy format with some fresh, clever touches. She freeze-frames characters’ faces to “map” graphics of their brains and highlight regions being stimulated in given situations, and uses montages of old film clips to whimsically show concepts like fight or fight, social bonding and epigenetic imprinting—the scientific term for “turning into your mother.”
An early shot of wrinkled, crinkled cerebral lobes dissolves into crumpled bedsheets while Dr. Julia’s narration explains that evolution shaped brain activity to accommodate the change from galloping sexual pursuit to long-haul, settled-down commitment. Later, Julia and Kevin have a Very Important Conversation in a very cool bookstore, where Kevin is working stringing delicate, decorative lights. The scene and the setting suggest that knowledge, books and science—and circuitry—can get you so far, but at some point, men and women just need to be honest with each other and talk it out.
“I know how the brain works,” Julia says. Cummings, who also executive produced, wrote and starred in her own CBS sitcom, Whitney, from 2011 to 2013, knows how comedy works, too. This brainy, battle-of-the-sexes rom-com works to make you laugh—and perhaps understand a bit more about why we think, act, communicate and behave the way we do.