Female Brain review Whitney Cummings Toby KebbellYear: 2018
Director(s): Whitney Cummings
Writer(s): Whitney Cummings, Louann Brizendine, Neal Brennan
Region of Origin: USA

Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 98 mins

Synopsis: What makes a woman swipe right for Mr. Wrong? Sofía Vergara and Whitney Cummings star in this fresh, witty look at the science behind our romantic missteps. (Source)

At a time when outdated gender stereotypes are burning to the ground, the rom-coms of yesteryear are dead – and it’s for the better. For her ambitious directorial debut, all-star writer and comedienne Whitney Cummings addresses this fact in the best way. Pulling from Louann Brizendine’s neuropsychological book of the same name, The Female Brain studies romance through science and wit, twisting preconceptions to celebrate differences that make opposites attract. Though the film doesn’t completely reinvent the wheel, it’s still a smart, entertaining plea for equality, positing that traits formally seen as weaknesses are actually strengths. With its stellar ensemble cast and a myriad of annotated stories that riotously provoke, Cummings’ film is as fascinating as it is fun.

The film is framed around a neuroscientist named Julia (Whitney Cummings). Consumed by her work and running from a past she can’t avoid, Julia’s a cynic who’s knowledge of the male and female brain has made her jaded. From here, the film jumps around, rendering Julia’s biochemical studies with a series of three couples, each of whom are at completely different points in their relationships. Zoe (Cecily Strong) and Greg (Blake Griffin) are newlyweds still figuring things out as they struggle with two high-pressure careers. Lisa (Sofia Vergara) and Steven (Deon Cole) are an older couple set in their ways, desperate to find a way to make their relationship feel new again. Lastly, Lexi (Lucy Punch) and boyfriend Adam (James Marsden) have hit a rough patch and find themselves at a crossroads. As these stories contrast and collide thematically, Julia finds herself conflicted by a new subject named Kevin, (Toby Kebbell) who challenges to undo everything she’s ever believed about men and women.

Cummings’ film is a winner because of how it juggles fascinating infotainment (revealing on-screen graphics and written commentary) with a subversion of shop-worn tropes. By leaning into what we expect from the genre and then critiquing it with an analytical eye, we’re forced to reevaluate what thought we knew. The results feel fresh and sharp, blending screwball vignettes with a feminist slant that couldn’t be more timely. The contrasting structure also does well to keep things diverse, shifting as each couple tries to solve their romantic woes. In this way, the film forms a playful battle between the sexes, digging deep into the gulf between men and women without ever getting stale. It’s a testament to Cummings and co-scripter Neal Brennan that they’re able to pack so much within a brisk runtime. By the time it all ends, the pieces of an incalculable puzzle fit into a satisfying portrait that shines a light into why our differences aren’t only bizarre and mysterious, but necessary.

Female Brain review Cecily Strong Blake GriffinThough the film’s unique premise is fascinating enough on its own, Cummings and crew are also a joy to watch. Headlining the entire thing, Cummings’ Julia is smart and headstrong, with humor coming through straight, dry, delivery. There’s a weariness that shines through because of what Julia’s been through, but as layers are peeled back and revealed, she becomes a multi-faceted character. The rest of the ensemble pulls their weight as well. The most outrageous and funny of the couplings, is Cecily Strong and Blake Griffin’s Zoe and Greg. The pair are the most charming of the bunch, giving the film its madcap appeal without losing the humanity beneath. Lucy Punch and James Marsden’s Lexi and Adam are a nice contrast to Sofia Vergara and Deon Cole’s Lisa and Steven, playing characters at the opposite end of the age and relationship spectrum. Beanie Feldstein is also quite the scene-stealer as pill-popping, overmedicated Abby. Feldstein gives Cummings a lot to bounce off of, and the two together are a knockout.

The Female Brain is great dissection of societal norms, putting science alongside impulse to find out where masculinity and femininity overlap. When all is said and done, the film is a sobering reminder that both men and women have their hangups, and that it’s time to stop looking at the latter’s as weaker, just different. All in all, Cummings’ directorial debut is loaded with purpose and smarts, signaling not just a needed change to the genre, but also in the way that we’ve conditioned ourselves to think about love, sex and each other.

SG