Brothers learn to exhale
Gary Hardwick's buddy flick showcases comedians
by Angela Baldassarre
Dateline: New York
Being dubbed the "Refusing to Exhale" movie is not such a good thing for a film about four friends unable to commit to women. While the all-girl vehicle based on Terry Macmillan's best-selling book Waiting to Exhale focused on women and their relationships with dysfunctional guys, Brothers is more of a hate-women rant by a group of very self-absorbed overgrown children.
But Brothers director Gary Hardwick finds the comparison healthy. "Our movie is saying this is how we feel about love and sex and commitment, and our movie makes very good use of the women as well," explains the first-time feature-film helmer. "I didn't think I could tell the story of these four guys without telling the stories of all the women in their lives, their lovers, their mothers, their sisters. Because as Jennifer Lewis [who plays a character in the film] so eloquently put it in the movie, 'men don't know who they are until they know what woman they want.' "
These Brothers - played by Morris Chestnut, Bill Bellamy, D.L. Hughley and Shemar Moore - learn the hard way what they want. A bittersweet comedy, the film centres on sexy paediatrician Jackson (Chestnut) who finds the right woman (Gabrielle Union) only to discover a disturbing secret. His pal Brian (Bellamy) is a lawyer who thinks all black women are bitches and that maybe "white is best". Meanwhile Derrick (Hughley) is a daddy and married but is frustrated because his wife won't indulge in fellatio. The catalyst to their problems comes from Terry (Moore) who announces his engagement thrusting his whining pals into a ridiculous state of self-pity.
"What I really wanted to say is that love is grand and love is wonderful, and if you want it you have to work for it," says Hardwick about writing the film. "That's where the idea started. Then that gave way to commitment and that gave me the first image of the movie which is a bride with a gun. Like most guys I went through a period where relationships were working and not working, and the thing about guys is that when they're not working it's never our fault. I was looking for somebody else to blame and that's one of the things that I think the movie makes very, very clear."
A former comedian, Hardwick made it a point to use two stand-up comics as part of his cast (Bellamy starred in The Kings of Comedy and Hughley is the host of his own TV show The Hughleys). "I needed humour to cut through the 'hate' talk," he smiles. "Morris was the serious one, and Shemar the romantic. I needed the guys with the most problems to be funny."
The tenth of 12 children born and raised in a working-class family in Detroit, Hardwick is a rare renaissance man who discovered a passion and never let go of it. That passion was writing, but the road to it was... shall we say... unconventional. First he attends the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where he majors in English "because I wanted to be a writer," he explains. There, at the age of 19, he writes his first novel, Dark Semester. He then decides to go to Wayne State Law School in Detroit "because I didn't want to starve while I was becoming an author. I figured I could use the money to do a lot of different things because, y'know, education is kind of its own reward. And when I was in law school I started doing stand-up comedy where I met guys like Tim Allen and Dennis Miller, and then I found out that you could put the two things together. I liked writing and I liked comedy so I started writing comedy for television."
After serving as his school's first black class president, Hardwick moves to California where he gets a job with the U.S. Department of Justice in the commercial fraud unit. But comedy and writing were never far behind. Once selected as a Walt Disney Fellow, Gary writes features Trippin' and Cheer Fever, as well as television shows South Central and Me and the Boys.
"Then came my books," he says. "And they got published. That was nice. I like seeing my words on the page like that." Indeed. There's a scene in Brothers where D.L. Hughley's character in immersed in a novel while his wife tries in vain to seduce him. The novel is Hardwick's third book, Supreme Justice.
"I'm glad you caught that," he laughs. "Yeah, that's why he wasn't interested in his wife, because he was so engrossed in my book. My publisher is very happy about that."
His first two books, Cold Medina and Double Dead, are set in modern-day Detroit and, the author hopes, one day will be made into feature films.
Which brings us to Brothers. "It all seems to sort of make sense because in one way or another it's all writing. Moving into feature-film writing is just another way of expressing my love for comedy."
While Brothers is hardly a girl-friendly pic - aside from The Young and Restless' Moore taking off his shirt during basketball practice - Hardwick insists that his wife was instrumental in the pic's dialogue. "I would have her read the script and one thing for me that has been very helpful in my life is talking and listening to women who are very expressive with their feelings, more than men," he admits. "To write good women, strong women effectively you have to sort of learn how women feel about themselves. I'm not saying I know everything, but if you listen you might learn."
No argument here.