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How ‘Boomerang,’ the Best Rom-Com Ever, Ruined Me

Damon Young | The Washington Post

The second thing I was reminded of when I first re-watched “Boomerang” this year was how good everyone looked. Each man was uncommonly handsome. Not handsome in a physically striking way — although some were that too. (Has a man in a movie ever looked better than Eddie Murphy does here?) But handsome the way a woman from an earlier time might describe a man who looks like he smells good. And the women, my God. Robin Givens, Lela Rochon, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, Tisha Campbell, Bebe Drake — all cooking with gas. Even the anonymous, scene-filling, office workers were levitating from cubicle to cuticle.

The cast was such an embarrassment of aesthetic riches that Halle Berry (Halle Berry! Halley motherf—in’ Berry!) was cast as the plain Jane who wins Murphy’s scoundrel heart with good manners and breathable fabrics, and it somehow works. The funniest scene in the entire movie — well, funniest during the re-watch — is when she breaks up with Murphy after discovering he cheated and tells him off with (paraphrasing) “Maybe I’m not pretty. Maybe I look like an old boot. Maybe I smell like chicken soup. But I have heart! I go to the gym! I hustle for loose balls!”

The first thing I was reminded of is just how great a movie it is. The late ’80s and early ’90s were a boon for canonical romantic comedies. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989). “Say Anything” (1989). “Pretty Woman” (1990). “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993). “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994). “Boomerang,” which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, doesn’t just exist in that category, it stands alone above it. It’s the funniest of them, which should be expected from a movie with Murphy, Martin Lawrence, David Alan Grier and Chris Rock. It’s also the sexiest. And not just in some abstract, implied, Victorian way, but the chemistry is palpable, and the romance is physical. I’m a grown man with a wife, two kids and a solid oak cutting board, and the pre-sex flirting between Murphy and Robin Givens still makes me blush.

Of course, it was a comedy released in 1992, so some of it has aged like hot milk. (The lazily queer-phobic jokes, especially. Which, even 30 years ago, felt injected from a worse movie.) Still, it introduced a world and a set of characters so magnetic and tactile that it felt — still feels — aspirational without being utopic. Like all those Ebony and Essence magazines on the dresser in my nana’s basement grew sentient and became infatuated with marketing strategies for women’s perfume.

It also contained one of the five funniest scenes of the past 50 years (the Thanksgiving dinner scene — which, among other things, introduced “you’ve got to coordinate” to the zeitgeist); had at least three of the best man-on-man on-screen hugs I’ve ever seen; introduced us to Grace Jones’s indelible Strangé; reminded us that, in a just world, Robin Givens would have been as famous for her femme fatales as Sharon Stone and Michelle Pfeiffer were. And it had the single greatest instance of “Line in the Movie Becomes the Title of a Hit Song.” A category I just invented to recognize the genius of transmuting Berry’s “Love should have brought your a– home last night!” to Toni Braxton’s “Love Shoulda Brought You Home.”

During the second re-watch this year — which occurred during a sleepy Saturday last month — I was transfixed by Murphy. His Marcus Graham was such an influential movie character that he ruined the romantic lives of an entire generation of now 40- to 50-year-old Black men. Who (like me) watched that movie during their formative years and (like me) believed that all you had to do to persuade a woman to forgive your transgressions is show up at her job with some random cute Black kids and tell her you have the sads.

Seriously, the entire make up scene goes like this (paraphrasing).

Him: It’s been months. You haven’t answered my letters.

Her: You hurt me. I hate you.

Him: That sucks.

Her: It does.

Him: I’m sad.

Her: Good!

Him: Do you still love me?

Her: I’m scared.

And then the movie just … ends with them walking down the street together, presumably to go to the Container Store.

(Other questionable lessons: If you sleep with your homie’s crush, he’ll forgive you if you hug him on a Harlem rooftop. Your friends will be happily sexless as long as they can live vicariously through you. You can sleep with literally every woman you work with and still be unfired, unsued and good at your job.)

It introduced a world and a set of characters so magnetic and tactile that it felt — still feels — aspirational without being utopic.

None of this is possible without Murphy’s performance, which needs context to truly appreciate. In 1992, he was widely considered the funniest person on earth. In “Boomerang,” though, he suppresses that comedic charisma — he’s maybe the seventh funniest person in the movie; he’s mostly just reacting to other characters — and becomes a suave and smoldering romantic lead. We’ve had male comedians make dramatic turns into, well, drama (Robin Williams, Tom Hanks), action (Michael Keaton) and Republican politics (Ben Carson). But who else could’ve toggled from the frenetic comedic impressions in “Coming to America to convincingly sexy enough to be the most eligible bachelor in New York City?

The answer is that no one else could’ve done that, but that didn’t stop impressionable young men (like me) from aspiring to be Marcus Graham like he was Michael Jordan. And at least MJ was realistic. ’Cause it’s easier to dunk from the foul line than to be in a love triangle with Givens and Berry.