“Hell No”, was the answer I got from one of my best friends when I asked him if he’d checked out Tyler Perry’s “Temptations.” Mitri is one of my best friends, and we resemble so much even his own father told us we looked like brothers, both bald choclate milk dud headed fly (at least in our own minds) black nerds. We grew up less than a mile away from each other, went to the same elementary school where I was three years ahead of him (but didn’t know him), and are currently in a continuing struggle to have un all over this sweet swinging ‘sphere (earth ya’ll). To put it short, we see a lot of things from similar vantage points.
Mitri warmed up however when I told him about the plot points. He seemed to relate to what I felt was a pretty solid examination of modern relationship malaise. Tyler Perry is the most successful black filmmaker working and will probably pass into being the most successful black filmmaker of all time. Despite his serious technical limitations and over the top plots, there is something very special and authentic in his film making to me. He has problems as a techical film maker, but we can not deny he is a story teller at heart with a particular sensitivity for why and how people fall short in various aspects of their lives.
My original complaint with Perry, one I heard echoed from many young black males who are cold toward his films, is that I felt there were pushing an age old line that the black American male was a no good, dangerous entity and the black woman was the saintly victim who will rise like a phonix once she gets rid of “Mister.” They also seemed to offer as their solution, a brand of emasculated choir boy. For a movie goer like me who grew up on anti heroes and rebels, I find this highly sleep inducing.
That criticism is not exactly on the mark however. Tyler Perry also has in his films a sophisticated critique of modern women, and how they are some times let down by their attitude toward the new freedoms in permissive and empowered modern society. For instance, Sanaa Lathan’s character in “The Family That Prey’s”, was not only carrying on an affair with her boss, she showed the highest degree of contempt for her husband (who happened to be black), and was downright disdainful of any efforts he made to better himself. Tyler Perry’s own character in his “Empire Strikes Back” like “Why did I get Married Two”, is a sensitive, nice man who’s wife is cheating on him for the excitement, and the male character is cast in the traditionally female role of noticing clues, signs, dates, and subtle lies, as a woman is unfaithful in a “good” marriage, not out of what we are told are the typical reasons women cheat, neglect and emotional distance, but for the excitement the new person provides. Tyler gives us a world of randy women and men who are super pragmatic and sensible, in what seems to be a critique, for women today seek a balance of the kinder, gentler XY chromosone that has produced in the wake of the movement for womens rights, and still yearn after the best qualities of the old swashbuckling male figure of yesteryear.
“Temptations”, no matter it’s technical limitations as a film, hit me with several scenes of recognition that I saw as completely authentic, as a young man who has not quite made the mark he wants to make in life, dealing with young women who have not quite made the mark they wish to make in life. It gets kind of rough in the back of the minivan!
“Temptations” is a film about a young couple from the south, raised in the girls mothers church, that fell in love at a very young age. They move together to Washington D.C in order to fullfill their dreams and goals, he is a pharmacist who aims to one day own the drug store he works in, she aims to be a marraige counselor. The movie finds them at precisely the point where some tension is beginning to show up in their marriage due to the amount of time it takes to reach their goals as a couple.
This theme is one I relate to closely through experience. Economists and sociologists tell us the impact of the “great recession” and the economic climate on America these past five years or so has delayed the normal progression of life for many young people. There are many people living at home with their parents, unable to marry or start their careers in quite the way they want to.
Jurnee Smollet-Bell’s character, Judith, feels trapped in certain ways. She works at an Internet matchmaking agency owned by Janice (Vanessa Williams), a fabulous lady with a somewhat pretentious French accent. Judith is not happy with her job, finding it trivial, hooking up rich folks, when she’d rather be helping couples stay find happiness in their marriage. She’s fallen into one of those personal funks, one that even extends to her wardrobe and beauty habits, which is pointed out frequently by Ava, portrayed by Kim Kardashian (yes, Kim Kardashian) in the role that prompted a “nontroversy” in some quarters of the interwebs about Perry casting a non black woman in a prominent role that turned out to be not so prominent at all.
One scene that hit home for me in particular was a scene in which Brice, Judith’s hardworking, 12 o’clock straight husband was attempting to encourage her and told her they could be where they want in 10 or 15 years. The look of disgust on Judtith’s face was one I’ve seen from many girlfriends when I make statements to show I’m fixed on the long haul. The speed at which things are consumed in our culture make us all expect things to happen too fast.
Another big “F” up on Bryce’s part was forgetting Judith’s birthday (Cue the soul classic “I forgot to be your lover.”) He did attempt a dance and song to Otis Reddings “Try a Little Tenderness”, but maybe instead of just doing a strip tease to it, he should have listened to and applied some of the lyrics, “Oh she may be weary/Young girls they do get weary/Wearing that same old shaggy dress/But when she gets weary/Try a little Tenderness.”
Kim Kardashian as Ava, playing a role very close to the public perception we have of her, pretty, fashion plated, image obsessed, suggested to Judtih that her husband forgot his birthday because she was forgettable, which struck me as a refreshingly old school approach, somebody giving advice that asks the advised to look at themself, rather than turning the at fault oerson into a punching bag.
Into this void of impatience and mundane day to day married life steps a black billionaire named Harley. Harley comes to the dating service to gets hooked up and decides he wants to hook up with Judith. Judith is slowly seduced by the aggressive, take charge nature Harley exhibits that seems to contrast so strongly with her husband Brice, but she is either too inexperienced or caught up to peep the dark side of his aggressive nature. Early on, she mentions from looking at a profile of Harley that he could be controlling, but she ignores that later on. Slowly and surely as Brice seems more and more boring and mundane, Harley presents himself as daring, and truly desirious of Judith.
Judith is caught up in Harley’s take charge nature but does not see the dark side inherent in that nature. One scene that hit me was after a dinner with her husband, some thugs call her a “bitch.” She responds with much spunk, but her husband calms her down and tells her they’d best forget about it. On another incident later, running in the park with Harley, a man almost bumps in to her and Harley acts like he’s ready to kill him. I’m sure an incident like this made Harley look strong and decisive next to her husband, but Judith had no comprehension of the old phrase, “The same thing that makes you laugh is the same thing that’ll make you cry.”
In the end Harley turns out to be a wolf in sheeps clothing and irreprable damage is done to Brice and Judith’s relationship. One thing that was interesting for me was I saw flashes of myself in both the cocksure Harley and the more modest Brice. As with any Tyler Perry movie, there is overacting and wild plot twists, but I do rather enjoy the unhurried pace of story telling, which makes a slow ascent almost like the view from a plane landing. All in all this is an interesting film that asks us if we can tweak our relationships so that we can hang in them a little bit longer, as opposed to constantly casting our lines for mercury filled fish in polluted seas. And brothers, at the least, Eve is at fault in this one.