Whitney Cummings Directs, Produces and Stars in “Brainy” Romantic Comedy
2018 DIRECTED BY WHITNEY CUMMINGS/2018
Louann Brizendine, M.D. is a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco whose book, “The Female Brain” served as inspiration for a film by the same name, The Female Brain. In her book, she contended that the female brain and male brain were uniquely and wholly different from one another. Eventually she came to admit that the book put too much emphasis on these differences, and later wrote a book called “The Male Brain”.
In the film, the science behind how female brains differ from men’s, in terms of chemical and hormonal differences that can be measured through MRI scans, now serves as a means to produce a romantic comedy.
Cummings is a good observer of the human condition and she is honest in her script and direction to criticize both sides of the gender role debate when it comes to how couples respond differently to the same circumstances.
Whitney Cummings (Made of Honor, The Wedding Ringer) directed, co-wrote, produced, and starred in this film where she plays a fictional version of Louann Brizendine, renamed Julia Brizendine. Also a neuropsychiatrist, Julia is a recently divorced woman who is studying three different couples as case studies between the differences of men and women. Hoping to validate her premise that women and men have completely different brain biochemistry, she pours herself into her work looking at our romantic impulses through these three couples.
The first couple she is studying is a set of newlyweds named Zoe (Cecily Strong – Ghostbusters (2016), The Boss) and Greg (Blake Griffin – the newer 90210). Zoe is a driven woman determined to have a successful business career and not simply live off the large salary of her husband, a professional basketball player. The second couple is a twelve-year married couple named Lisa (Sofia Vergara – Chef, Modern Family) and Steven (Deon Cole-Barbershop: The Next Cut, Black-ish) who find themselves on autopilot, simply navigating life. The final couple aren’t married but live together where Lexi (Lucy Punch – Bad Teacher, Into the Woods) obsesses with her appearance and spends all of her time trying to make her boyfriend Adam (James Marsden-X-Men, 27 Dresses) into someone “better”, while he resents her for trying to change him completely.
Overall, the film has some good moments, but is hamstrung by the constant stopping of scenes where Cummings’ character Julia narrates the differences of men and women for us the viewer, and in the film for her audience at a lecture, based on what we just witnessed on screen between one of the three aforementioned couples. This works at the beginning as a means to teach us the true science behind the film’s premise, and from the real-life author’s actual research, but it slows down the flow as it continues for the entire runtime of the film.
Cummings, as a writer, is a able to work in a few fresh moments for comedy, that really worked both as a reason to laugh and its own social commentary on relationships that we could all relate to. Again, they are slowed down by the stop-start rhythm of the script. Her cast is great for their roles, and the biggest laughs are actually generated by Julia (Cummings) millennial-aged assistant, Beanie Feldstein, who is coming off of a great performance in this year’s Oscar-nominated Lady Bird. Cummings also has a good narrative as she begins to fall for a single male, Kevin (Toby Kebbel – War for the Planet of the Apes, Kong: Skull Island), who volunteers for her research to have his brain scanned in the MRI machine where Julia can measure his brain’s reactions to photographic stimuli. It is through this relationship of the two mismatched individuals that Julia begins to realize that maybe her research premise is biased, with her being the biggest obstacle.
The Female Brain has some decent cameos from Jane Seymour and Ben Platt, and features an interesting premise. Unfortunately, its momentum is stopped by its heady premise that needs to constantly be explained instead of allowing more scenes to simply play themselves out after maybe a little bit of narrative introduction driving things forward (the old “show, don’t tell” mantra would definitely apply here). When this is done, the film picks up momentum, causing you to root for it, only to be disappointed again by another stop/start explanation.
Cummings is a good observer of the human condition and she is honest in her script and direction to criticize both sides of the gender role debate when it comes to how couples respond differently to the same circumstances. I would hope that she would take more chances in future projects to just let the script play out with the cast’s performances, delivery, and chemistry doing the heavy work for her instead of constant narrative. At least that’s how my male brain saw The Female Brain.
The Female Brain is now showing at select theaters, beginning this weekend, including the Premiere Renaissance 15 in Houston, TX.