It is entirely difficult for me to enter Perry’s Temptation without preconceived notions, assumptions, and a lack of suspended judgment. Perry introduces into most of his works a formulaic style, that –although seems to guarantee him financial success– doesn’t leave much for the imagination, nor does it leave room for those of us that like to be objective and neutral in at least a few of our Black media analysis. A Tyler Perry film critique is no country for unbiased review.
Perry is obviously devoted to his Black Christian/Baptist audience. In that regard, his plays, films, television shows, and interpretations of the works of others embodies the patriarchal, the conservative, the absolutist, and the traditional. Any media analysis or critique of his work that can only offer you a rehashing of how patriarchal notions meshed with Black vernacular(urban or rural) and cultural artifacts and western notions of romance is at best a superficial musing; at worst, another academic looking to take shots on the 4 foot rim. And yes, poking those particular holes in Perry’s work is just that easy. In that regard, nothing that Tyler Perry does should be unfamiliar: the ingredients of his secret sauce could be expounded upon by a 10 year old cartoon character in less than three minutes. More importantly, so much of Perry’s Temptation is the urban and predominantly Black cast version of “The Family That Prays”.
I leave those initial statements there as disclaimer more for the sake of those that might choose to publicly analyze Perry’s Temptation, than for my own feeble attempt at political correctness. Any Black attempting a fair media analysis is beset by that gnawing reality that entertain and art are essentially subjective, thus no matter how disciplined or analytic the you or I might be, we still make a choice somewhere whether to like or dislike the movie based on criteria that is not always born by the content of the piece of entertainment or art. Moving on.
Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor written for the screen, directed, and produced by Tyler Perry is the narrative, or confession, of Judith, a middle aged marriage counselor.We are introduced to the story’s narrator, holding what appears to be marriage counseling sessions as she uses herself in anecdote as a moral story for not cheating, well, for not entering into an affair that has been suggested. The visual chronology is a bit off putting because initially we are given what appears to be a Black woman in her late 30s to 40s without any hint or subtitle of the date of the setting, but are told that she and her husband met 19 years prior to her meeting a social media guru at the age of 26 where the bulk of her narrative is set. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t become a household name until around 2009, but I’ll give Perry 2005, 2006, but it still is confusing because we are talking a good 20 years of physical age difference in the looks of the characters in the setting the narrator exists in. While I am on that note, the other glitch in production is that Judith’s mother, Sarah, looks the same age while Judith is supposedly 5 years old, a teenager, and 23-24 when Judith is marrying to her husband Brice.
Perry’s Temptation, although roughly 16 minutes short of two hours, left me wanting more for the initial age sequence built from what we find out is the span of 19 years. Perry’s Temptation toys at the concept of “show don’t tell” with the oft-mentioned rape scene, yet it fails to show us the burgeoning romance between Brice and Judith. One of the shortcomings of the writing of Tyler’s Temptation is that we are given very piecemeal portions of Brice’s character, and for the most part, we only know Brice in conjunction to Judith. This begs a question, sure, because we really don’t know that much about Judith. Also, we are made cognizant via dialogue, a luxury that Perry–as a playwright– often abuses, that Judith has attended and graduated from college, yet we don’t see her attending college during Judith as narrator’s depiction of her and Brice’s childhood romance. Tyler’s dependence on the voice of morality, Judith’ mother, Sarah, leaves a gaping hole in the overall character development and fluidity of Temptation as he needs to show us that her mother is always there watching over them. But, as far as whom these characters are is limited to a notion that Brice has been fairly clingy since Sunday School.
It probably makes 60 year old veterans of the Black Christian/Baptist matriarchy feel all warm inside, but for us Black media analyst that like a little meat on their fiction, it leaves Perry open for criticism on a level that Perry –a guy who has become the leading Black media producer and gatekeeper of the 2000s– should not be still dealing with. Given that Perry takes 30 minutes developing the relationship between Judith and Temptation’s antagonist, I would believe dedicating ten minutes of that for Temptation’s character evolution–maybe even just a full scene of them in high school, at least show her attending college, damn– would have gone a long way.
The antagonist of Perry’s Temptation, Harley, is injected into the story line while Judith is employed as a matchmaker working for Janise Wise portrayed by Vanessa Williams. Harley, supposedly the Black Shawn Parker, an urbane social media guru who is negotiating a deal with Janise Wise to build a dating site. Although, way too many minutes long, and a certain lack of chemistry between Jornee Smollet-Bell, who is cast as “Judith”, and Robbie Jones(“Harley”), I was captured by the development of their relationship.
Perry has a knack for squeezing various elements of Black culture into a plot cheesy enough to make your mother catch the holy ghost. Although the subtly of a Perry script is Mother Goose meets King James–Temptation not being an exception–I chuckle and think to my Self, “yeah, I know a person like that” when Judith details why she does not like the idea of match making and online dating. It is not just a Southern Black perception of the online world, most Blacks across many subcultures of our subculture are prone to have issues with less than organic forms of social involvement, especially of the romantic sort. I was intrigued in a very reluctant manner with the alternating cuts and viewpoints regarding relationship via dialogue (this time it is complimentary) that was shared by the two. I was not happy with the plot device used to compare and contrast the archetypal “bad boy” with the archetypal “good guy”.
The cut scene from her just having a discussion with Harley to her rushing into her and Brice’s apartment and forcing him to be “passionate” with her sexually was confusing and embarrassing. This scene makes me wish Perry’s Temptation had spent more time developing the storyline of Judith and Brice’s earlier years because it feels as though this side of Judith comes out of thin air. It asks much too much of my imagination. The more salient point of this for the purposes of media impact is that works as foreshadow to justify a rape scene. Perry shows us that Judith wants to have an aggressive and spontaneous sexual experience that her husband Brice is too conservative to provide her with. Later, we are given the aggressive and slightly spontaneous experience in the form of a rape. The cut scene is not the only scene I have problems with, as I take issue with this entire discussion. I can almost stomach the Protestant era code of conduct propaganda as “morality play”, but, the “thug” versus the “choir boy” sans the streets and sans the singing is very much a Black cultural discussion that I am tired of insecure Black men having.
Beyond the need for Perry to use Temptation as a tacit standard pointer for what makes a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, Perry’s Temptation handles rape very irresponsibly. Judith is invited to a business trip to New Orleans with Harley. Due to Judith’s rural upbringing, she is counseled by her coworker, Ava ,played by Kim Kardashian, on how to dress. Not quite sure where Perry is pulling this archetype from as most rural and formally educated Black women that had conservative church going mothers would have been showing Ava how to dress in the same way Beyoncé would be teaching Kim Kardashian how to, but I do feel as though Kim is the voice of the “sexy standard” that Black men want in women as opposed to Harley who in Perry’s mind represents what Black women want from their professional Black men (I’m not totally sure he gets either right). With Kim as her guide into all things male libido, we cut scene to Judith arriving to a private jet and whisked away to lush lounges and strolling out with expensive daiquiris because that’s what you do in a Tyler Perry movie when you leave your husband at home and go away on a business trip to the bayou.
We are given about three minutes of nothing business related New Orleans and we are back on the private jet. With another relationship related conversation in tow, Harley tells Judith he wants to make love to her and forces him Self onto her. The major feelings of disturbance for me arose at the moment Harley breaks, makes the comment about her being able to say she resisted and we cut scene. I personally wish Perry would have just shown the rape because we already have the justification from the scene earlier, and now we have this gap in continuity that leaves a question in the air. The only reference we have for the rape is after Harley has dropped her off at home in front of her husband and mother with Judith smiling when Judith is in the bathroom mirror fantasizing about being raped. This is problematic.
Because we don’t discuss the reality that this is a rape scene in throughout the film, it impresses on the public conscious questions that are left unanswered. We go from a smiling Judith that just got raped, to a jealous Judith that calls Harley in the middle of the night and leaves to go be with him. We see Judith with Harley in a romantic setting being enticed to snort cocaine, which of course, she does. At this point, I’m left to say that Judith is a weak character, and that this movie portrays rape as a form of seduction. The “bad boy”, Harley–who is styled as “satan” through the symbolic coloring of his car and a daunting selection of burning candles where the smoke is more readily accessed than the fire—eventually moves Judith in, and they leave the life of rap stars. Although Harley is supposed to be a social media mogul, we do not see or hear of the business venture that they initially decide to embark on and that consequently caused Judith to quite her job. As Judith quits her job she makes a comment about the authenticity of her former employer’s accent, I suppose this is to show us how sophisticated Judith has grown. I suppose around this portion of the movie we get a climax when Judith and Harley go to pick up Judith’s laptop(of course Apple got the product placement nod). Judith walks in and her mother is in a prayer ritual a la Beloved. As Judith attempts to walk out with the laptop, she is grabbed by her mother and then Harley grabs the laptop and knocks Judith’s mother to the floor. This scene immediately made me state out loud, “Ah naw, in real life, they would have rushed that nigga…”
The crescendo occurs after Harley unable to find his cocaine after being slandered and attacked by Judith, beats Judith. Judith is left for dead until Brice, who is concurrently having a discussion with Melinda who tells Brice that her former husband who gave her HIV was Harley. The “good guys” always have impeccable timing in Tyler Perry’s worlds. So, Brice– mustering courage from some magical place that does not exist until this last chapter before epilogue—hits and kicks Harley, and grabs Judith and walks her to the car or whatever.
Cut scene back to Judith the narrator’s time and office. Judith concludes the story and her client promises to end the affair she is in. Judith walks, or limps ( actually, it is more of a nice paced stroll), to the pharmacy where we see that Melinda is still stocking shelves and has not gotten her half of Harley’s estate, and Brice now owns the pharmacy and is with a woman who we are able to assume is the mother of the child he is picking up and calling “son”. The credits cue with us watching Judith hobbling (oh, no confusion there) towards the horizon.
Because the redemption of the movie rests on Brice, I take issue with Perry’s Temptation being a public conference on what makes a man a “good man” and what does not. Perry’s Temptation presents a one sided discussion whereby the man that doesn’t say anything when the woman he is walking with is disrespected is redeemed and qualified as the “good guy” versus a man that immediately becomes physical even in the event of an obvious accident is “satan”. There is a not so subtle discussion occurring through Perry’s Temptation that feels like locker room or barbershop banter regarding what Black women “really” want from men, and what Black women “should” want from men. In contrast, we are presented with a Black woman that represents Judith’s opposite in Melinda played by Brandy, who gives us Moesha as a 30-something year old, but I am going to leave that all alone!
I am a little disturbed because we are, once again via dialogue, given this character Melinda that is the ex-wife of Harley. Nothing about Melinda suggests Harley at any point of either of their lives, though! Why is the ex-wife of a social media guru that owns a private jet working at a pharmacy? I understand that women in abusive relationships often need to put distance between them Self and their abusers, but divorce is divorce and I can’t buy into that aspect of Perry’s Temptation. The agency of the women in the movie with regard to retribution is lacking. On one hand there is a woman that has been raped and no cops have been called, on the other hand there is the divorcee that doesn’t collect any money from her annulment and has somehow been diagnosed as having HIV but her high profile former husband can scour the land spreading HIV with no legal ramifications. No one calls the police in the movie. I almost wish Perry would have donned grandma-ma pajamas and wig once more and brought the gun totting matriarch that is really a patriarch in drag, Madea in to rectify these loose ends.
Melinda is supposedly all that Brice wants in his Judith, or has lost. The danger for me with Melinda is that she does not offer any redemption. Whatever moral symbol she is to play in Perry’s Temptation is lost on me. She is presented as a wholesome, yet sophisticated, woman who could be the “right” woman for Brice, but, she has HIV. As most critics of this movie I’ve read have suggested, I too believe that Perry is using HIV to represent “hell fire and damnation” and in that regard, Melinda doesn’t provide a redeeming image for the women, especially the young women, watching this “morality play”. In the moral world of Perry’s Temptation, a Black woman is damned if she gets raped and damned if she gets married. There is no message that a Black woman could walk away from this movie with as moral guidance if I am to follow the vein of patriarchal, Protestant values. For the male characters in Tyler’s Temptation, there is no true “punishment” for doing what the Black women do.
Brice is well rewarded for being the “good guy” husband, although he has known Judith since they were 5 or 6 years old and fumbles on her birthday, does not know she periodically likes rough sex, in fact, I will stretch out my analysis and say the guy does not know who Judith is, let alone should he get the husband of the year award. In the world of Perry’s Temptation, a man should be dubbed “good guy” because he is passive, authoritarian, and apparently absent minded. Yet, Brice is able to attempt to kiss Melinda with no compunction while he is still depressed about losing the love of his life. In Perry’s Temptation, being raped is punishable by HIV, and being married to the wrong man is punishable by HIV, but as long as you are either rich or the “good guy”, or hell, A MAN, you are exempt from the punishments faced by the women of the movie.
There are no resolutions for a man who we are to assume is just passing HIV out like candy on Halloween. I am left to believe that the Black man, a dark skinned brother at that, who is touted as being the next best thing to Mark Zuckerberg in a setting that is supposed to be circa 2006– eh, give or take a few years for good measure and hopes that you can play on the imagination, or ignorance, of the audience on the timeliness of what would the present setting(that is, how far in the future is the narrator’s setting)– can go around giving women, plural, HIV? I am supposed to elicit a moral proponent – albeit sexist, protestant, and naive as hell– from a world where a high profile, Black social media programmer can have HIV and no one know about it but the spouse that contracted from him?
There is no resolution, or at least no redemption, for the two women who are now living with HIV. In Tyler Perry’s world, Black women with HIV aren’t able to move on with committed relationships although I personally know couples where one party is HIV positive and a Black woman. In Tyler’s world, why can’t Black women find love after HIV? Why is it that only the Black women are left single and stuck in the purgatory of dead in jobs while we don’t know what happens to Brice, and her husband is now happy with child and what appears to the owner of the pharmacy we are told in the beginning is his dream?
In the end, we sort of get more preaching to a familiar choir from a familiar preacher giving his familiar sermon. The icon of the film poster is a snake that wraps itself into the form of an apple giving further nod to Perry’s Christian/Baptist ideology and understanding of temptation, namely the story of Adam and Eve. And in Perry’s Temptation Eve not only walks away from the Garden of Eden, Adam gets to stay, so she walks alone.