A Thin Line Between Love & Hate

“Gotta be something wrong with you, baby…” – Drake, “B*tch Is Crazy”

I was ten years old when A Thin Line Between Love & Hate came out in theaters. The film officially turned 20 years old, last month.

1996 was a very different time. The Black romantic comedy was becoming a bankable asset in Hollywood, often a springboard for Black stand-up comics to foray into film. Eddie Murphy had done that by way of Coming to America and, most especially, Boomerang, a few years after. The staple amongst these Black romantic comedies soon came to be, the player type that FINALLY meets the one who makes him settle down or change his ways, and A Thin Line was no exception.

Inspired by the similarly entitled song by The Persuaders, A Thin Line was Martin Lawrence’s first foray into an actual romantic comedy-drama (we won’t count “Talkin’ Dirty After Dark” as dramatic for obvious reasons), one whose groundwork had been laid nicely by the Martin sitcom and the demonstrated chemistry between Martin and Tisha then-Campbell’s Gina. It was also Lawrence’s directorial debut. The film is told as a retrospective, opening with Martin and some other woman crashing through a window and colliding into a swimming pool. Lawrence warns us that this is a cautionary tale, and then the story begins.

There are two stories, technically three.

There’s the story of Darnell Wright, the lothario-club promoter at Los Angeles nightclub “Chocolate City.” Darnell is the metaphorical man with the golden ticket – the golden ticket here being “VIP passes” to Chocolate City, which he gives to women in exchange for… well, things. Darnell’s crew consists of Tee and Earl (played by Daryl Wright and Bobby Brown, during his small acting run in the ’90s, respectively). Darnell likes to take down women, but for he’s extremely protective of the women in his life, his mother and younger sister. He also loves a challenge. His VIP pass pushing is part of a larger plan to convince Chocolate City’s owner, Smitty, to take him on a partner because he’s able to generate a crowd. A challenge, is exactly what’s presented when Brandi Webb pulls up in a limousine in front of Chocolate City and immediately catches his eye.

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Thus, the second story – that of Brandi Webb. Brandi Webb is gorgeous; the first time she’s seen on screen is in shades and a white business suit that reflects the sun off her skin perfectly. (Worth noting, Lynn Whitfield was 42 when that movie dropped. Again, Lynn Whitfield was 42 looking all of 26, back in 1996. And her Black STILL hasn’t cracked). She’s focused. She’s a businesswoman, who deals in property management and sales.

She initially dismisses Darnell’s advances, but after he goes above and beyond even his own usual efforts – scheduling a house viewing as a client but surprising her with a gift at the end of it – Brandi gives in. She shows up to Chocolate City finally. Darnell takes her home one night. In an emotional moment, as Darnell is attempting to have sex with her, Brandi cautions him that she needs him to be serious and to only say what he means; she’s been hurt before and doesn’t want to be again. Darnell, motivated more by lust, tells her he loves her; and they have sex.

“Callin my ex-girl or e-mailin’ my mama / You’re the only one, that’s causin’ me this drama…”

Having “conquered” Brandi, Darnell’s interest wanes; Brandi, on the other hand, having fully fallen for Darnell, starts pulling out all the stops to be the best girlfriend ever. She becomes doting and smothering, and it’s a bit much for Darnell. Eventually, he stands her up on her birthday, and that causes Brandi to snap. What follows is a series of incidents where Brandi tries to make Darnell love her back, or else. She self-harms to get him to come see her at the hospital; when he rejects her, Brandi tells the police her injuries were Darnell’s doing. She goes by his mother’s house and insults her in front of him. She messes up Darnell’s car. And when Darnell goes to Brandi’s house to confront her once and for all, she exacts revenge, intending to make him pay.

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Mia and Tee show up to rescue him, but Brandi overpowers them both, and by the film’s end, we’re back at the beginning – we see that Darnell and Brandi are the ones who crashed into the pool at the film’s start, because Darnell was trying to stop Brandi from shooting Mia.

Mia (played by Regina King, fresh off being Craig’s pretty sister in the daisy dukes from Friday), is the third story. Darnell’s childhood sweetheart, she still visits his mother from time to time, and has a new boyfriend (Reggie, played by Miguel Nunez, Jr. Reggie’s parents own a fried chicken restaurant, so Darnell comically refers to him as “the Chicken King”). In spite of Darnell’s player ways, there is something about Mia that he’s never been able to shake. She’s the “good girl” in contrast to all of the “fast hoes” he lets into Chocolate City; and when Mia shows up at the club one night, Darnell embraces her (Brandi spots this embrace, too).

On Brandi’s birthday, Darnell ends up hanging out with Mia instead, and he confesses that he loves her. This time, he means it. Mia doesn’t know what the “price” of Darnell’s love is, at least not then. But in the end, when she confronts Brandi, we know he must mean something to her, too, and the two are still together by the film’s conclusion.

Like most Black romantic comedies of the time, it didn’t do too shabby at the box office. It was a good movie with a couple cameos (a relatively unknown Tracy Morgan can be spotting working the bar; Della Reese is Darnell’s mother) and an even better soundtrack. Roger Troutman of Zapp & Roger provided music for the film itself. And Tevin Campbell’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” Eric Benet’s “Let’s Stay Together,” R. Kelly’s “Freak Tonight,” and H-Town’s version of “A Thin Line Between Love & Hate” all appeared on the motion picture soundtrack.

By the time A Thin Line Between Love & Hate ends, there’s a happy ending for everyone, it seems, but Brandi, who’s in jail. Darnell wishes the best but hopes she “fixes that dent in her heart before they let her out.” It was funny back then and in some ways, it still is now. Martin has teased the possibility of a sequel, but there’s really no need for that. Because twenty years later, A Thin Line remains a cult classic for proving true the idea of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Images courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

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