Tyler Perry, Gabrielle Union, Thandie Newton, Brian J. White, Phylicia Rashad, Eddie Cibrian, Jamie Kennedy, Rebecca Romijn
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
There's a reason that Tyler Perry doesn't screen his films for critics. He doesn't have to.
Tyler Perry films are Tyler Perry films, with or without his defining character of Madea. Tyler Perry films are written for the stage, even if they are not stage productions. Tyler Perry films are shameless moral lessons, films about real people living real life while experiencing real successes and real failures with an eye on the real prize - that of being loved, quite simply, "as is."
You either appreciate Tyler Perry films or you don't. There's seldom a middle ground. Tyler Perry has carved himself a niche' of the Hollywood box-office pie and found himself a home with Lionsgate films, an upper end indie studio wise enough to let Perry be Perry while offering their own expertise in distribution. Perry's films are consistently profitable, despite being almost never pre-screened for critics and despite being frequently panned, or at least disrespected, by critics. There's no question that the Black film audience embraces Perry, but his films are quite universal in their themes.
Anyone familiar with Hollywood's history, whether that's classic Hollywood or a certain Adam Sandler film, is likely to have a clue what Good Deeds is really about. Perry plays Wesley Deeds III, a fifth generation Ivy League graduate destined for business greatness and to take over the family business dynasty. Wesley has always done what was expected of him, personally and professionally. He's a good man. In today's lingo, he's part of the 1%.
Lindsey (Thandie Newton), is not part of the 1%. She's likely in the bottom 10%, a single mom struggling to get by as a janitor and on the verge of losing everything. Perry shows us her experience vividly, doing a paint-by-numbers portrait of the cycle of poverty in such a way that some might find it irritating but it's undeniably effective. Lindsey is not a victim of her circumstances, but she's caught within a cycle from which there seems no escape.
Wesley meets Lindsey, who works in one of his office buildings, late one night and the two have a conversation. Wesley, whose existence seems largely devoid of anything resembling an emotion, begins to feel something festering inside of himself and is increasingly drawn into Lindsey's world to the point of assisting her in gaining a semblance of stability and, a bit stereotypically, eventually discovering a romantic connection that never convinces.
Wesley has long taken care of the world around him ranging from an alcoholic brother (Brian J. White) to a distant mother (Phylicia Rashad) and a near perfect fiancee (Gabrielle Union). The problem for Wesley is that in the midst of always being good he's never learned to be himself.
There's something stunningly refreshing about Good Deeds, a film that is largely devoid of Perry's usual humorous gimmicks and that features a more serious, introspective Perry in the lead role. Perry's not the world's greatest actor, but he's a competent one and he shows quite a bit of growth here and, dare I say it, a growing comfort in his own skin.
The film is also blessed by the presence of Thandie Newton, who takes the role of Lindsey to places that most actresses would have never found until Perry corners the two leads into a relationship that feels more awkward than awesome. The two simply don't have the chemistry to pull off a convincing relationship, and the absence of chemistry is made a bit more jarring because of the vast differences between the two.
It is to Perry's credit that something so essential to the film as its romantic thread doesn't sabotage the film when it doesn't quite gel together. Good Deeds is certainly one of Perry's best films yet, a rewarding experience for his modestly sized legion of fans who will no doubt embrace the film and its faith in humanity.
It's also refreshing to see the African-American community portrayed with such tremendous diversity, both as members of the 1% and as those living on the edges of the cycle of poverty. Perry's films are still a little too "paint by numbers" for some folks, but I'm willing to surrender myself to the formulaic for a filmmaker who so consistently and fervently creates films that teach, inspire, entertain and exude such richness of humanity.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic