Delivering the Best of Eva
Gary Hardwick goes lightweight in romantic comedy
By Angela Baldassarre
Watching a movie about a woman who outsmarts sex-obsessed men is always a pleasant pastime for this scribe. Yet there was this sense of nastiness prevailing the main character in Gary Hardwick's Deliver Us From Eva, which was somewhat unnerving.
Eva (Gabrielle Union) is the hard-working sister to three gorgeous women who look up to her with awe and respect. But the siblings' husbands/boyfriends have had enough of Eva's meddling into their affairs - especially when it comes to sex - to the point where they hire smooth-talking Ray (LL Cool J) to romance and distract her. But, as love stories have it, the two actually do fall in love with each other.
Although the sense of unease should've derived from the males' deceitfulness, it was Eva who actually comes across as manipulative and evil.
"Absolutely not," says Hardwick from his home in Michigan. "Eva is actually pretty honest; the men are the ones who are scheming against her. Eva's pretty straight ahead, always says how she feels even if it's a little abrasive. The guys are the ones who are sneaky, trying to pull a fast one on her."
The director, whose previous film was the romantic comedy The Brothers, explains that the original story by James Iver Mattson and B.E. Brauner, in fact pictured Eva in a much more negative light.
"The original Eva was very mean and very surly and very abrasive and very shrewish, and there was no reason for it," he says. "I thought the story was funny, like Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, but it never told you why she was a mean woman. And that's not the kind of thing that I do. I thought I can't do this unless I find a really good emotional reason why Eva would be such a mean person. She has to earn that character. So I came up with this story about her sisters and her parents. Eva is the hero of that family. Mother and father dies, Eva becomes mother and father, big sister and friend, she saves her three sisters, but in the process she pays an emotional price for it. So once you learn that, to me you don't really mind her being such a mean person because she's come about it through a very, very noble way. And you root for her to get by that, to find that good person that she used to be."
Having grown up in with six sisters, Hardwick believes that he's very qualified to convey such emotional complexities, explaining that "at various points in their lives they have had to be very strong and very tough. But because I'm close to them, I can tell that they are very sweet and kind and loving, but the world isn't always fair to women. Especially women who have lots of responsibilities, like single mothers. You have to grow a lot of thick skin. And the film in its subtle way is saying look deeper, look closer. This guy comes in to trick her, but in the end what he finds underneath her exterior is what he's been looking for his whole life, or what he's been running from you might say, because Ray is running from responsibility."
Hardwick is the author of four published novels - Cold Medina, Double Dead, Supreme Justice, Color of Justice - all gritty, violent tales about life in his hometown of Detroit. One can only wonder if, as a filmmaker, he chooses to make romantic comedies in order to cleanse himself of that material... or does he take just what comes his way?
"This is a good, good question! You got me there!" he laughs. "Part of it is what comes my way; mostly what they do in Hollywood is comedy. Romantic comedy is not pure comedy or broad comedy, where people are falling down and mirrors are exploding in school lunches; it is sophisticated comedy, and it allows you little dramatic moments where you can do a little bit of something different. It's alright as long as you as an artist are not offended by what you are doing. And I think that it does balance quite frankly to get out of the ghetto and away from the guns and the drugs, and the people who are morally stripped and divided about their hearts and their souls, and to get into the right movies where love is the thing that everyone is headed towards; it sort of balances you out. I can't keep my head in the grit for long periods of time without becoming depressed. I try very hard not to be pigeon-holed, but at the same time when people know that you are good at something they bring work your way, and sometimes it is very good work."
Pigeonholing Hardwick isn't easy. 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 (unpublished). 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."
And we'll be able to see one of them up on the screen as well. Hardwick is in the process of adapting Color of Justice, his latest novel, into a screenplay and is in talks to direct the picture as well.
"It's the story of a white guy who lives his whole life in a black neighbourhood, and by the time he is 35 he is now a detective," explains Hardwick. "He sort of speaks the lingo, sort of has the cases down, and he comes by naturally. He is not a poser, not a pretender, he is just a guy who is the product of his environment. So we have the white man who is not white, and the black man who is not black. And of course he gets a criminal case where issues of race are important to the resolution of the case, and he is the only person who can see clear through all the issues of race because he has learned to sort of stop the phoniness of black and white people. And that's a very dangerous man in a city like Detroit because there is a lot of racial politics in Detroit, but a guy who can look past it is a very, very dangerous man."
Indeed. So Deliver Us from Eva is just a lightweight sampling of what this talented man is capable of cooking up.
"I hope so," laughs Hardwick.