In David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Tyler Perry plays Ben Affleck’s attorney. There isn’t much to his character, but Perry proves one thing: he is capable of capturing our attention without donning a dress and mugging as a Mammy.
Tyler Perry is one of the hardest working men in show business. He has four TV series currently on the air, has Oprah in his back pocket, recently produced his 19th play, and cranks out movies at a faster clip then Woody Allen. And if he we are talking dollars and cents, Tyler Perry is easily the most successful black filmmaker and producer in film history (sorry Spike…).
Unfortunately, he achieves these accolades by, as Mr. Lee says, engaging in “coonery buffoonery”. While Perry is definitely to be commended for making his black characters smart, sophisticated, and beautiful and giving them prestigious careers like doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, Perry then simultaneously turns around and punishes his successful characters if they ever turn their hearts away from the almighty wrath of the Lord. Through Him all is possible and without Him, all is lost. His favorite sin to exploit is adultery and his favorite method of punishment is HIV. Never one for subtlety, Perry hits you over the head with his proselytizing, ruining any chance of walking away from his film’s feeling empathy or love for his characters or their struggles.
Now, I realize that I am not his “traditional” audience. One, I am white. Two, I am an atheist. And three, I am a homosexual – although if Tyler would come correct, I would at least we included in that demographic (Who are you fooling, Tyler? You have way too many half-naked ripped men in your films for this to be an accident…).
With very few exceptions, Tyler’s camerawork and direction are amateurish and do not translate well to the screen. His framing is poor and seems improvised while his characters are unbelievably broad, shucking and jiving through their scenes like they just escaped from the plantation. I cannot believe how many black people pony up by the millions to be insulted in this way. Perhaps they see it as satire, some kind of Mel Brooks’ style – and forgive the pun – black comedy. Perhaps they enjoy seeing white people made out to be the fool in egregious ways (I guess it’s only fair after 150 years of Sambo and Aunt Jemima…). Or perhaps I am just an overly sensitive West Side liberal that harbors too much white guilt to get on board with this minstrel show. And not to question Tyler’s own religious convictions, but there is a level of manipulation happening in his films that feel like he is using God to sell tickets rather than to spread His message. Maybe I am just too cynical to appreciate earnest Christian belief when I see it. Any way you slice it though, his films feel belabored and insulting.
Emblazoned with his name, as if we could mistake it for anyone else, Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor starts off promising. It tells the story of Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a marriage counselor whose own ex-marital dalliance costs her her husband and her health.
Judith, nowhere close to living up to the strength of her Biblical predecessor, mopes through her soul sucking job at a matchmaking firm, mopes through her mediocre marriage to a pharmacist, and rolls her eyes at God – yet stands in self-righteous indignation that anyone would dream of having sex outside of wedlock.
Enter Harley (gorgeous gorgeous Robbie Jones), a millionaire who is looking to invest in their company. Janice (Vanessa Williams) sticks him with Judith to come up with some kind of computer program. It is unclear exactly what this is for when she has already built a compatibility survey that does the same thing. No matter. It’s all a convoluted conceit to get them to flirt with one another and to unwittingly share details about their personal lives.
Trouble is a foot at home with Brice (Tyler Perry stalwart Lance Gross – a very misleading name, I might add). She feels he doesn’t emotionally support her. She is bored with their lovemaking. She is upset that he doesn’t yell back at cat callers in the street. She is pissed they he forgot her birthday (OK, this one is pretty bad). And she feels stuck at her job because he doesn’t make enough money to help her open her own practice. Welcome to marriage, honey. And after six years of marriage, you need something to shake you up and make you take hold. So she puts on her fuck me pumps and struts into the arms of Harley.
Now, what’s funny is that she goes on this sexual journey with another man in retaliation for her husband’s “neglect” and a cry for his attention, yet SHE is the one who ends up paying for it in the end. This could not be just some normal affair where everyone grows and figures out their shit and realizes that maybe Oz isn’t all it is cracked up to be. No, no. Not in a Tyler Perry movie. Judith is punished in the worst way possible.
Despite the warnings from her mother, the Rev. Sarah (Ella Joyce), Judith cajoles with the Devil (and Tyler actually paints him as Satan, complete with a conveniently prominent fire during a drug-fueled orgy – see the poster for further proof…). She is verbally abused by Harley, yet takes it because apparently the D is that good. And she has never had a man taking charge like this. She is excited, enticed, turned on by his brute masculinity. He takes her to New Orleans where she experiences alcohol for possibly the first time. He gives her cocaine. He has awakened this new and daring side of her. And then he almost beats her to death when she threatens to leave. Oh, and gives her HIV.
The film of course ends up with her returning to church with her Mama where she belongs. But not until picking up her T-cell meds from her local pharmacist. I bet you can’t guess who…
In Temptation‘s defense, it is definitely a step forward cinematically for its director. It has this sweeping cinematography complete with a sepia lushness, dripping with eroticism; the perfect look for a romantic drama. There are moments that you feel like he had an Adrian Lyne marathon right before shooting began. And the acting has some really great scenes; the two leads are excellent throughout their cat and mouse seduction. Their passion seeps through the screen, leaving you feel spent.
But of course where the film falters – as all Tyler Perry films do – is its writing. Now, I am not (merely) attacking Temptation for its gross insertion of God and His power to heal every ill, yet punish His flock at their slightest transgression. No, Temptation‘s writing is just plain bad. The plot is weak and the dialogue worse.
I must share a few examples:
“If smiles were dollars, we would have had millions.” – Judith on her wedding to Brice
“Sometimes you don’t know who you’re married to.” – the obvious tagline woven into everyday conversation
“You want to growl at something, growl at this sandwich.” – Brice, after Judith comes home horny as hell and wanting it bad
-“I don’t just want a good guy. I want a phenomenal guy.” – Judith to Brice, once again severely not in touch with the realities of marriage
And the litany of ridiculous jabs from Kim Kardashian’s character Ava, a gay man’s take on what he thinks a woman talks like (#pagingsexandthecity):
– “A degree on the wall without labels on your back is NOTHING!”
– “You don’t breath in Hermes!”
– “Is your fashion icon Delta Stewardess?”
– “That’s not make-up. That’s make-down!”
– “You’re wearing flats? Push me out the window why don’t you?”
Oh, and of course the film’s message:
– “Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m going to end this almost-affair and stay with my husband.”
The film is told in flashback to one of Judith’s patients as a warning not to stray. To stay the course and work things out with your husband. Because who knows. You might just end up with AIDS if you do.
Maybe some day Tyler Perry will realize that he is capable of getting our attention with good storytelling and craftsmanship instead of schlocky moralizing.