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Review: The Female Brain

Whitney Cummings’s film never seems quite sure whether it wants to probe the depths of its title subject or just make us laugh.

The Female Brain
Photo: IFC Films

Playing like a Genius-annotated version of He’s Just Not That Into You, Whitney Cummings’s The Female Brain spins the pop-science bestseller by neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine of the same name into a shaggy relationship comedy that repackages a bunch of time-worn observations about the differences between men and women in the au courant jargon of neuroscience. The film is by and large a succession of rambling comic scenarios periodically interrupted by little explanatory montages that purport to provide the neurological bases for its characters’ stereotypical feminine behavior, like being emotional or failing to speak up in meetings. While some of these explications may have a basis in legitimate scientific studies, others feel suspiciously vague and circular in their reasoning, using terms like “dopamine” and “pheromones” as hand-waving “proof” that women are hard-wired to do things like gossip and fall in love at first sight.

In the film’s dominant plotline, Cummings plays Julie, a scientist loosely based on Brizendine, who believes that by studying the brain she can conquer her own impulses and avoid messy complications like falling in love or having to choose what food to eat (she prefers to get her nutrients from a steady diet of Soylent). Julie’s design for living is so transparently delusional that there’s little dramatic interest in watching her dawning realization that this is no way to live one’s life. Nor is it very appealing to watch her halting romance with a stock romcom love interest, Kevin (Toby Kebbell), an easy-going charmer who inexplicably makes it his mission to crack her cold, antisocial façade. Why is he so dead set on wooing this woman who practically howls at him just for asking her out on a date? Despite its ostensible curiosity about the vagaries of human psychology, The Female Brain is never able to make these two characters or their relationship feel particularly believable.

The film parallels Julie and Kevin’s nascent romance with three couples in longer-term relationships: a middle-aged husband and wife (Deon Cole and Sofia Vergara) whose marriage has grown stale and sexless; an NBA star (Blake Griffin) who feels challenged by his career-driven wife (Cecily Strong); and a fastidious perfectionist (Lucy Punch) whose attempts to change her easygoing boyfriend (James Marsden) only drive him away. These couplings are each meant to serve as paradigmatic case studies in the supposedly cavernous gulf separating men and women, but the relationships are too generically conceived and vaguely sketched to offer much in the way of genuine insight.

Rather than homing in on any lessons to be gleaned from all these relationships, Cummings just lets the camera roll as the actors engage in rhythmless Apatovian improv sessions. The results are occasionally amusing—Griffin, for one, turns out to be surprisingly adept at stone-faced riffing—but more often lack in anything resembling an acute sense of comic timing. And because practically every needlessly prolonged scene proceeds in the same loose-limbed style, the film becomes a sluggish bore. The Female Brain never seems quite sure whether it wants to probe the depths of its title subject or just make us laugh. And given the shallowness of its quasi-scientific blather and the tepidness of its comedy, it ultimately does neither.

Cast: Whitney Cummings, Sofía Vergara, Toby Kebbell, James Marsden, Lucy Punch, Beanie Feldstein, Cecily Strong, Blake Griffin, Deon Cole Director: Whitney Cummings Screenwriter: Neal Brennan, Whitney Cummings Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 99 min Rating: NR Year: 2017 Buy: Video

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