Culture

Resist “Temptation”

temptation

Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

dir. Tyler Perry

Release Date: Mar 29, 13

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(Editor’s note: Major spoilers ahead if you plan to see Temptation, though you shouldn’t at all.)

I didn’t go in expecting to have much to say about Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. Although I always root for Tyler Perry movies to be good and for Perry to (finally) figure out how to put together a coherent film, I suspected Temptation would be generically bad and forgettable. But this movie is a very, very special kind of bad, starting off dull and spiralling into a third act that is hysterically terrible in a way you don’t often see at the studio level. Parts of it played like a mashup of The Room and The Paperboy, which qualifies Temptation as a Hail Mary of camp. It’s a gift from the bad movie gods.

I don’t even know where to start with this crap. The plot is an inverted Fifty Shades of Grey situation. A happily married romance therapist (Judith, played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is happily married having lots of happy marriage vanilla sex and reminding us how happily married she is until she meets a billionaire playboy (Robbie Jones) with Bond-villain cheekbones, who enjoys taking his shirt off. In case we didn’t know what his intentions were with our daughter: his name is Harley, he believes that humans should “have sex like animals” and drives a red sports car. All he needs is a license plate that says “BAD GUY1.” “BAD GUY” was already taken. Because everything in the movie is howlingly literal religious dogma, his choice in car makes him the devil. The actual devil. I just thought it meant he had a small penis. Silly me.

In case you couldn’t pick up on the symbolism (because you’re either colorblind or a moron), Tyler Perry has Judith’s mother (Ella Joyce) announce it on screen. Her mother is a fire-and-brimstone kind of gal (faintly reminiscent of New York’s mother from Flavor of Love), and she spends most of the movie throwing a moral fit and reminding us that it’s “easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven.” Don’t let her snake-handling eyes fool you, though. This is a Tyler Perry movie, so she acts as the voice of reason. She’s supposed to be the sane one.

Judith’s mother is a fitting symbol of the movie’s Old Testament morality and over-the-top insanity, as the film is wall-to-wall carpeted with crazy. Although Kim Kardashian has recieved much press for being in the film, she contributes little. Kardashian plays Judith’s co-worker, a knock-off Emily Blunt who consistently reminds Judith that she’s ugly and dresses poorly. In what universe is Jurnee Smollett-Bell ugly? It’s the same one where Vanessa Williams (who plays her boss) can “convincingly” pull off a French accent, married men never like to have spontaneous sex, you can forget your wife’s birthday in the age of Facebook and your “dumpy husband” has a body that could cover Men’s Fitness magazine.

For the gays and ladies in the audience, the camera lingers over every ripple in the male physique, greasing its male characters up as if they were pigs at the county fair. You’ll see no complaint here. It’s also the only time the camerawork comes to life, as it’s elsewhere limp and lifeless. I wondered if the cinematographer showed up to work dead every day. Instead of shooting anything with verve, they prefer to hammer the same exterior shots of Washington D.C. down your throat. I wasn’t kidding about the Tommy Wiseau connection.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell does a nice job of keeping the movie in check — for the first hour. A Friday Night Lights alum, Smollett-Bell all but reprises her FNL character, showing the same blend of down-to-earth sensibility and pluckiness, with just a hint of longing. The only problem with Smollett-Bell is that as an actress, she has a bad habit of letting her mouth do the work for her, broadcasting those moments of sexual craving by keeping her jaw slightly ajar. Perry hammers that trait into the ground, and she just comes off like a mouthbreather. During her scenes of passionate lovemaking, I kept picturing Darth Vader instead.

However, Smolett-Bell can only do so much to ground the film before Perry’s worst instincts take over and it fully descends into The Room, with a better budget. After Judith leaves her husband, the movie moves to Crazytown, and you know you’ve arrived when her husband has to come rescue Judith from a literal den of sin, and she steps out of it with a coke nose and sex hair. I actually expected to see a “Hail Satan!” sign on the wall. Looked like my kind of place. The movie gets borderline hysterical over Judith’s sexual awakening, as if Perry means to punish women for wanting fulfillment from their sex lives. Although her husband shows compassion for Judith and forgives her (kind of), Perry himself shows little.

Need proof? Temptation features the harshest slut-shaming in the history of cinema. For straying outside of her marriage, Judith is rewarded with a drug problem, domestic violence, a bum leg and HIV. Through a bizarre last-minute twist, the movie takes away her beauty, and we find out Judith is now the sad church lady who has to limp to service with her mother. Don’t feel bad for Judith, though. She still sees her ex-husband when she visits him at the pharmacy he works at. He’s moved onto a hottie with a body and a family, and Judith is married to Jesus. And they all lived happily ever after, except for the one that got AIDS.

Of course, this all could have been avoided if Judith had only listened to the Sad HIV Girl, played by Brandy Norwood. How do we know she’s sad? She only has one lamp in her house,  because when you’re infected with HIV, you can’t afford overhead lighting. It’s understandable, though. If I were Brandy, I wouldn’t want my face to be seen in this crap, either.

The oddest thing about this movie is that, for all of the over-the-top melodrama, Perry insists on shooting any dramatic tension in the face by undercutting moments of genuine feeling with broad comedy. When the Sad HIV Girl tells us she’s Sad and Has HIV, Perry crassly throws in a Sassy Old Lady being all Sassy and Old. Does it want to be a heartfelt drama, a damning morality tale, a soap opera, a potboiler, a Lifetime movie, a hoot-and-holler campfest or intentionally funny? How about all of the above?

In a Tyler Perry joint, it’s not just Good and Evil fighting it out; the movie continually battles itself narratively and tonally, trying to be everything to everyone. By being so eager to please, Perry makes a hot mess of a movie that appeals to no one, and even its target audience seemed to be laughing at it. Tyler Perry proves you can have it all, except for a good movie.