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Monday
Apr082013

Temptation: There's No Redemption In This Gospel Play

Tyler Perry recently shot a spot for Oprah's OWN dressed as Madea while Winfrey returned to her "Color Purple" character Sofia. In "The Color Purple," Sofia gets a redemption story arc. But in Perry's new film "Temptation," redemption and forgiveness are hard to come by.There's not a lot about Tyler Perry's "Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor" that I can say that hasn't been said by everyone else who was either amused or horrified by it. Other than the whole thing had a familiar ring to it. A late Sunday night, St. Louis cable access channel ring to it. 

A long time ago when I was a kid growing up in North St. Louis County I watched a moving about black prostitutes that was not a porno. It was a spiritually based film about a woman who'd strayed and through several twists and turns and finally some really low lows found her way to Christ and was redeemed. Tyler Perry started hitting the Jesus Juice heavy and early in "Temptation" with the mother character in the film being a prayer circle-loving spiritual firebrand and having Jurnee Smollett-Bell's character "Judith" tell some catcalling men they needed to go to church and get some Jesus in their life as a retort. So even in knowing all I knew about the film, I naturally settled in for a tale of a woman who falls off the wagon, but is saved by Jesus in the end.

But that's not what happens in this movie.

In the movie about the hooker, finding Jesus lead to prosperity, getting off the streets, getting accepted by her family again, getting love and getting her self-respect back. It was basically saying you can be the lowest of the low and Jesus will walk with you and get you a better hair weave and teeth and get you back in school and away from your brutal pimp. That sounds like a pretty awesome Jesus. Tell me more about this guy.

In "Temptation," after a couple who married too young grows apart, the wife strays, has a tawdry affair (that begins with something that looks a lot like sexual assault), goes through all the seven sins, sometimes at the same time, embarrasses her husband and mother, blasphemies all over the place and appears to snort a lot of cocaine. (SPOILER ALERT: She gets HIV for her troubles.) 

At this point, I fully expected the movie to do what the play "Diary of A Mad Black Woman" did -- the play, not the film -- which is where through Christ (and her husband and mother's love) she would be saved and redeemed and in the end, she would be a better wife and her husband would stand by her and take her back once she'd shown real change through salvation.

Jurnee's Judith is just as awful in some respects as the husband from "Diary of A Mad Black Woman" but in the film the director (who wasn't Tyler Perry) or maybe Perry himself had the good sense to say, "Gee, it kind of looks bad for this woman to take back a man who was abusive to her just because he found Jesus. Can't she just help him find Jesus then be all, I love you in the spirit, but this marriage is over?" And I would have accepted that ending with "Temptation" too, if the husband had gotten Judith straightened out, helped her cope with her diagnosis, get back in touch with God, then go, "I'm-a gonna love you from afar," and both characters go on to be victorious in Christ.

THAT'S HOW A REDEMPTION PLAY IS SUPPOSED TO WORK.

But that's not the ending of Temptation, which is where HIV is a punishment and Judith has to walk the earth as an unloved, marked woman, while her husband happily remarries. 

Ignore the fact that the acting is kind of all over the place, the dialogue wooden, the sex seeming more like rape, the fact that (yet again) it's some educated light-skinned woman who's the villain in Perry-verse. What do we expect at this point? It's a TP film. As long as Madea didn't show up to pistol whip anybody ...

But maybe Madea DID need to show up because maybe Madea would have shook some sense into Judith, took her in, helped her fill out the necessary medical forms and get her life straight so she wouldn't have to cut off all her hair and walk around like it's the damned Scarlet Letter. I mean, Shug Avery had that "nasty woman's disease" in The Color Purple, but she had a clear redemption arc where her religious father forgave her and took her back. It's like Tyler Perry decided cheating on your husband and snorting coke is a sin too far and she had to be FOREVER PUNISHED which, even as the world's worst non-practicing Christian, I know that's NOT HOW CHRISTIANITY WORKS.  

And that's what's disappointing because the movie doesn't make you feel good at the end like a traditional redemption play does. It doesn't remind you that God Saves All. That no matter how far you fall "He" can lift you up. There's no alter call. There's no come to Jesus moment for Judith. She doesn't even get what the bad guy in "Diary of A Mad Black Woman" got.

She gets HIV. 

Man, TP. That's cold.

Video H/T Clutch

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Reader Comments (4)

Like I said on Facebook: "I've tried and tried but Tyler Perry, I just can't support you in good conscience anymore. Temptation was GREAT - until the final act where Perry wrapped up the storylines. Predictable reveal after predictable reveal, except for the final twist at the end - which I wont spoil - but by that point it was too little, too late. At least this time he showed his characters working at jobs that could justify the lifestyle they lived.

Makes me think of Michael Jackson near the end of his life - like Tommy Davidson joked, he didn't have any good friends cuz a good friend woulda told Mikey to stay away from the kids or at least never be unsupervised with em and a good friend woulda told Tyler - it kinda looks like you have issues with empowered women. . . and an unhealthy obsession with AIDS.

I will say that technically, Perry gets better every time. This movie was well-shot - early Perry movies feel like a camera in front of a stage play. It moved briskly, Kim Kardashian was OK (for her character - I'm not sure yet if that child can act), Brandy was horribly miscast for hers, Vanessa Williams and Lance Gross were good as well and the leads Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Robbie Jones were phoenomenal! It sounded good (up until the final act there were only a few small moments of "real people don't talk like that"), looked good, starred DC in a supporting role (Something in DC that isn't a political drama, WOOT!) but man that last act killed it for me. Can't say more without spoiling."

That's where my Facebook review ended, but since you've already talked about Judith receiving AIDS for her troubles. . . I'm starting to wonder about Perry's method: does he have flashcards with plot points sitting next to his desk, play solitaire and then write whatever hand is dealt? How is it every evil man got aids in the Perry universe? Where are the mostly good men with one evil trait? Where are the mostly good women with one bad flaw that causes other issues? Where is the subtlety in the husband-wife relationship? Where is the communication between the husband and wife? WHY was her momma having the prayer circle at her apartment, setting up that oh-so convienient moment for Harley to show his aggressive side. Where was Judith's aggressive side? He pushes the line past incredulity at that moment - Even a "fallen" woman like Judith would have drawn the line at Harley shoving her Momma - was she supposed to be so high and so lost she doesn't even question that?

This is why I think Tommy Davidson was right: Perry aint got no real friends anymore or, like Quinten Tarentino, he doesn't feel he needs to listen to them if he does. Its sad, because I want to like him as a writer/director and I want to recommend him to my friends, but I just cant. . . just cant.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNehesi

Oprah is his friend. I'm wondering why she doesn't tell him? I love you Oprah but I'm giving you a massive side eye.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdonnadara

I am in the minority clearly, but it really wasn't that deep for me. People keep going to see his movies with the mindset that they are going to see something deep, then complain when they don't. I liked it. I was entertained on a Saturday afternoon, and that's all I was looking for. I wasn't there to compare light-skinned and dark skinned women and what TP was trying to say about Christianity and all this.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAico

Aica, thank you for your post. My daughter saw it and liked it. I can only wait til it comes out on Blu-ray as I can only sit for a short period. Maybe that's the problem, we're not looking for all these things. I usually like Perry's film though I don't like the plays.
When the rated THE FAMILY THAT PREYS I was waiting to see it. I liked it, but the only thing I heard on this site was about the relationship between the Black woman and the white man. I was more interested in the relationship of the two women and happy that the men were able to pull off the business that they wished for. I don't usually look for lessons in the film....just a story.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkhrish
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