To talk about the differences between men and women now is to step into a minefield. One rhetorical foot wrong and off goes the tripwire.
But Shunsuke Arita’s new comedy “Handling Method for Grumpy Woman” strides blithely into this minefield, awkward English title and all. A first-time director with TV experience, Arita has guides to this treacherous territory in Ihoko Kurokawa, an artificial intelligence (AI) researcher who wrote the nonfiction book on which the film is based, and Natsuko Yokosawa, a comedian who assisted with Naomi Hiruta’s script and who appears in the film. (“When I first read the book I thought it was a manual on how to deal with me,” Yokosawa says in a program comment.)
However, this doesn’t mean the film is free from cringe-inducing cliches and stereotypes. Set in a wedding hall and focusing on a trouble-plagued reception, the story features such familiar characters as the teary, locked-in-the-toilet-stall bride (Rena Matsui), the well-meaning, clueless groom (Daichi Saeki) and the hectoring, meddlesome groom’s mom (Mayumi Asaka).
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||107 mins.|
The new element, as well as the mouthpiece for Kurokawa’s research, is Ai Majima (Akari Hayami), a college student majoring in AI and doing her graduation thesis on the differences between male and female brains. Or, more specifically, about how men can stop annoying the heck out of women with their ignorance of said differences. Eager to do field work, Ai lands a part-time job as an assistant to a super-dedicated male wedding planner (Yuta Hiraoka).
The aforementioned reception is her first assignment and she is soon confronted with a series of crises — from a wine stain on the bride’s white dress to a middle-aged woman (Hideko Hara) about to divorce her workaholic husband (Akio Kaneda) after decades of neglect. Meanwhile, the husband — the bride’s uncle — is desperately begging her to not consign his speech, which he downloaded from the internet, to a ladies room commode.
As this example suggests, the comedy is on the level of a TV sitcom, with everyone behaving according to type. The exception is Hayami’s Ai, who uses her knowledge to put out fires, while expounding to perplexed males on the salient features of the female brain.
When confronted by a woman with a problem (the wine stain, for example), a man will typically offer a “rational” solution (buy a new wedding dress), but what she really wants, Ai tells the groom, is some sign that he understands her “real” question (Does he love me?).
As case study follows case study, the film begins to assume the form of an instructional video or, with Ai’s research condensed into bullet points, a TED talk. All she’s lacking is a microphone, a stage and a screen.
As Ai, Hayami is earnest and direct, but not annoyingly didactic. Her reluctance to upstage her boss or offend the guests is part of her charm — and a source of comedy. And when she does deliver a summation of her research, she speaks from her heart as well as her well-stocked brain.
Stripped of its pop psychology, much of her advice is common sense, for either sex. People don’t always say what they think, but they always feel what they feel. And if you can’t read the emotions behind the words, your marriage, as her clients painfully learn, will be a bumpy ride.
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