Temptation – Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor –– written, produced, and directed by Tyler Perry. Drama. A female counselor working in a dating service office meets a demon with beautiful eyes. 111 minutes Color 2013.
This piece comes from a Perry stage play, and I had the experience of seeing it just after viewing a series of Robert Altman films of plays. The difference between them is marked. On the one hand Perry has a clear strong story, and Altman frequently courts a story invisible to the point of limpness. But the odds come out in favor of Altman. Because Altman has something he wants to do with the clay and material substance of film, and, as yet, Tyler Perry does not. For Perry film is a means, for Altman a medium.
Perry is a sweet and gifted entertainer. But he probably should not write his own screenplays when taken from his own stage plays, because he cannot see them clearly enough to cut them. There is too much talk and the talk is TV-banal. And he also should concentrate on becoming a director and discovering what that métier really offers. Right now his craft is so ordinary as almost to be insulting to his audience’s aesthetic sense. A high drama executed with a routine of reaction shots is stultifying.
Although the film plays as though it were not originally a stage play, he brings into what is a serious, compelling, and dangerous story, certain stereotypes, not from life, but, without realizing it, from TV comedy. He takes them seriously and they drain the piece of credibility and the balance which supports credibility in a serious drama.
An example of this is the husband of the young woman, who is cut out of paper into a thankless role played by the handsome and well formed and highly professional Lance Gross. The husband is found inadequate to the wife on the grounds that he forgot her birthday twice and watches the ball game. He also makes love in bed with the lamp low and the covers pulled. None of this gives an actor a cue for character. It is external. There is nothing for him to inhale or imagine. All of it is conventional, sufficient, tired.
We also have the maniac mom with The Lord’s Name her word and sword. Disapproval was what the Bible was devised to guide her to bestow. This would be funny in a Tyler Perry comedy, for comedy diets on stereotypes. But not tragedy.
In the rubric of drama the only requisite is imagination. The vivacity and veracity of Altman films come to us from his imagining that these are to be found in the human quirks of the outlying action – literally in the eccentric. But too many of Perry’s characters wantonly lack eccentricity. They lack being.
What does not lack being in the piece is Renée Taylor, a delicious clown as a Jewish pharmacist. (It’s so good to see her again.) And it does not lack top flight talent in the two focal characters of a situation which works like gang busters because the woman is an ordinary woman tempting herself with an extraordinary man. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is full in command of her craft in playing the woman. Ronnie Jones as the demon set out to seduce her (“To show love for someone, but not to feel that love – that is the work of Mephistopheles.”) is fabulous – and so skilled is the writing and the playing of the scenes between them that while they are going on all else retreats from consideration. See Temptation for that.
One cannot help like and root for Tyler Perry. If here his too many hands make heavy his work, still his spirit and honesty in putting this strong material forth is admirable and big hearted and bold. It is not only blacks in his audience who wish him to succeed – succeed in a way this very successful man has insufficiently dreamed.