2 Stars — Wholesome
The strength of Tyler Perry’s films lies not only in the moral messages they enfold but also in their ability to tell the black experience in America. Showing African-Americans who have reached the highest levels of society, the hero of Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds is a multiple-generation Ivy League graduate. The impact this has on American culture cannot be underestimated.
However, in this latest film there are two weaknesses we would note. The first is the absence of Christian faith that is usually present in Perry’s films as a result of the centrality of the church in black culture. The second is the lack of depth in the development of the characters. As director, writer and lead actor, Perry has increasingly presented films in which the characters are one dimensional and the moral message is simplistic and obvious. Perhaps the films would be enriched by including more creative collaboration in writing these tales.
Appropriately named after John Wesley, the Christian theologian who focused on practicing deeds of love, Wesley Deeds (Perry) is the first-born son of a successful software company founder. We pick up the story when Wesley has suppressed his own dreams to be the responsible CEO of his father’s company following his death. Although admirable, this decision has stolen the joy from his life and turned him into a predictable automaton of a person. Even his beautiful fiancée, Natalie (Gabrielle Union), cannot bring him happiness as she is his mother’s choice for his life partner rather than his own.
Balancing Wesley’s hyper-responsibility is the hostility of his younger brother, Walter (Brian White). Dreaming of taking over his father’s business, he is angry at being rejected as successor by his father. This pain is accentuated by the way his mother Wilhelmina (Phylicia Rashad) denigrates him. Trying to protect his brother from their parents’ rejection, Wesley accepts not only Walter’s irresponsibility but also overlooks his sabotage of his leadership of the company.
Into this predictable tale comes a beautiful single mother who is down on her luck. As the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq, Lindsey Wakefield (Thandie Newton) has become homeless. A custodian for Wesley’s company, Lindsey and her daughter, Ariel (Jordenn Thompson), soon introduce a missing ingredient into Wesley’s life as he attempts to help them in their plight. These good deeds open his heart to both life and love.
The central message of the tale is that each of us needs to follow our dreams as we open our hearts to others. That message is true, but it is far more difficult to open our hearts without faith and the support of our religious community than this film suggests.
» Are you reaching for your own dreams or have you surrendered yourself to the dreams of others? How has this worked for you?
» The freedom to pursue his own dreams is what Lyndsey brings into Wesley’s life. But it is also clear that her choices to live life on her own terms were not working well for her. Do you find it true that to follow your dreams also means to live with less security? Why or why not?
» The cruelty Walter’s mother shows him is hard to understand. What do you think happened that created such a relationship? Why do you answer as you do?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.