Tyler Perry’s new film Good Deeds opened in theaters yesterday; it stars Perry in the lead role with Thandie Newton, Brian White, Gabrielle Union and Phylicia Rashad. I caught one of the earlier showings here in Chicago, but before I get into my critique of the film, I supposed a brief summary might be in order…
Wesley Deeds (portrayed by Perry) is a soon-to-be married successful business man, working hard to hold on to the company his late father built but the juvenile ranting of his younger brother (White) and pressure from his domineering mother (Rashad), makes maneuvering his responsibilities less than thrilling. Wesley finds himself stuck in a humdrum existence always set to do the right thing, even if the right thing may not be right for him—that is until he has a run in with down and out single mom, Lindsey (Newton), and the rest is history…
…and history tends to repeat itself, doesn’t it? Good Deeds felt like a retread of a retread of a retread—at best it was a lifetime movie with a lobotomy. The biggest hiccup of this film is that it tried too hard to be serious instead of actually being what it had the most potential to be: a romantic comedy. My overall thoughts when leaving the theater was that, Perry still doesn’t get it; it’s like he’s in a bubble where he believes he knows what’s best for his audience (and that he’s evolving in his craft) but really he’s late to the party and has no clue what time it started in the first place. On a positive note, this film showed he’s gradually getting better with the technical aspects of his films, with the cinematography giving off warm colors and polished visuals that had a soothing effect on me as I sat and watched. But that plus in the column may not be attributable to Perry, more an honor to bestow upon the cinematographer, because the foundations of this story—the writing and the intuitiveness needed for good directing is woefully lacking. Perry dips into the same recipe over and over again, only changing a few elements here and there to give the illusion that he has progressed as a filmmaker. Simply put, he wants to be taken seriously but sitting through a film like Good Deeds, although it wasn’t the worst of the worst, it was impossible for me to afford him the validation he so desperately wants; it just wasn’t good, title not withstanding.
Here are a few of my issues with the film:
Tyler’s performance as a romantic lead seemed awkward; his intimate scenes with both Natalie (Union) and Lindsey (Newton) at times were chuckle-worthy, stiff and uncomfortable to watch. It’s like witnessing your drunken gay friend trying to do a test run on being straight; it’s cute and clumsy but far from believable and it is for damn sure not sexy. We are asked to believe in this building romance and most importantly believe that he is this conflicted man torn between these two beautiful women but it’s not sold to us on the screen. Instead Tyler continues to play the same non-Madea character he has in many his film’s, the even-toned, stoic man that doesn’t lend much to the story besides some deep chuckles and a few speeches of wisdom that seems to tell us what we should be getting out of this tale instead of showing us. But wait, there’s more…
The characterizations in this film are overwrought stereotypes we have come used to seeing in not only Perry’s films but other black dramedys as well (hint: Jumping the Broom). There’s the affluent family, with a domineering matriarch and grown men (patriarch included) that cower in her presence. There’s the rude-loud mouth sexist black brother with a perpetual scowl on his face that blames everyone and everything for his own shortcomings, there’s the ditsy white Best friend (portrayed by Rebecca Romijn that reverses the usual trend in mainstream films but even it is becoming so overused in Perry's films that it’s not refreshing anymore) and next, the dreaded angry black woman, full up on attitude and bitterness. Her life is so tragic that she lashes out at everyone, taking her frustrations out on her children and is too proud to recognize a good man, a kind gesture…a “fill in the blank” when it comes along; she’s in need of saving because she can’t save herself. Each of these characters not only encompasses their stereotypical archetypes to a tee but they do it with a level of seriousness that makes one wonder, “is it really that bad for black actors in Hollywood?”
The film was also far from absent of one of Perry’s crowning glories of cinematic sin; his dialogue. From the wonderful world of clichés to the downright ridiculous, I give you Good Deed’s greatest hits…on second thought, I didn’t have enough paper to right them all down but what I will say is this [turns to Perry] please let someone else have a go at writing one of your films. For example: A very awkward scene between Wesley and Natalie over a blond hair, came across as one of the most stunted moments of dialogue in any Tyler Perry movie I’ve seen to date, The scenes with Walter (White) was so cringe-worthy, I felt embarrassed that I was in the theater suffering through it. I could go on and on, from Wilhemina’s (Rashad) soap opera-like exchanges with her on-screen sons, to Thandie’s continuous schizophrenic confusion over whether she should be playing her role as a slave on a plantation, a hardened Brooklynite or a throw-back to Halle Berry’s Khaila in Losing Isiah. Sometimes I wonder if she has studied Hollywood’s version of American black women or actually been around a few, I've never felt like she understands the cadence of American dialect unless it’s exaggerated Ebonics. It didn’t feel true to the character nor the background that was given to us in regards to who she was; however, out of all the hiccups and trite portrayals in this film, one of the worst had to be Tyler Perry’s Wesley.
And isn’t that what it all boils down too? Set aside the lumbering dialogue, paper-thin storylines, one-dimensional characters and cookie cutter films that Perry churns out almost every year—the big elephant in the room is whether Tyler Perry is not only lacking as a filmmaker but as a leading man. I couldn’t help but wonder if this Good Deeds attempt was a precursor to his role in the Alex Cross film? Was Good Deeds a way to indoctrinate his audience to the idea that he is indeed leading man material, one that women can swoon over, one that commands an audiences attention, one that can be as much a an intense and passionate as Denzel or any of the numerous white male leading men that are paraded across our screens every month. Examples of Tyler’s quest to change his image through this film:
- His character has sex (yes you read right, sex!)
- His character dances to 2Pac
- He rides a hog (that’s a motorcycle for those of you not up on biker lingo)
- He has a brawl
But even with all these attempts at machismo, the answer was more than clear that Tyler is not a leading man, at least not in the sense that he wants to be. He is Madea and will remain that way because that’s what he does best. When he veers outside of that, he almost always sets himself up for disaster or indifference. No one wants to see Tyler banging Gabrielle Union against a wall because it’s not believable.
That’s not a personal attack against his being or what his sexual orientation may or may not be but simply a fact. An actor can have any bedroom practice they want behind closed doors but what matters is what we see on the screen. Is it believable or is it not? I think many of you may already know the answer to that.
Some positive points:
- From the costuming; make-up and hair everyone looked great, even Newton’s downtrodden single mom character looked ravenous in this film.
- The editing didn’t falter
- The cinematography was warm and soothing on the eyes.
The ending wraps up too neatly and as many rom-coms do, it’s a HEA that doesn’t always drive with the reality of the world, but this is the movie world and in films like that, it’s to be expected. Good Deeds, did not promote itself as that, it wanted us to take it as some form of high drama, a character introspection sprinkled with romance. In that, it didn’t achieve what it set out to do.
So after all this, is the film truly worth seeing? Well, I'll leave that up to each of you to decide. For me, once is enough, the awkwardness alone made me disgruntled by the end. This is not romance and barely comedy. It’s a failed cinematic soap-opera better served to the TV crowd but I fear even they would reject it based on one inescapable reality; the film is boring. In closing and to drive home the point, I'll take from Perry's own words from the mouth of his on-screen fiance Natalie, "You're predictable."
That pretty much sums it up: "Tyler you're predictable," and that ain't a good thing.