I have been a longstanding fan of Tyler Perry films since Diary of a Mad Black Woman. And I am no Madea purist. I also thought that non-Madea films such as Daddy's Little Girls and The Family that Preys were also heart-felt and thought provoking. Perry is proof that filmmakers who believe that African-American actors are limited in their role selection are wrong. He depicts all of the socio-economic diversity of African Americans and never sounds judgmental or patronizing. He just portrays their slices of life, often with a fair amount of depth.
So I was a little shocked upon exiting the theater this evening for the midnight showing of Good Deeds to see that Perry – who serves as director, screenwriter, and leading man in the film – has finally done it and crafted a mediocre movie, that is long on melodrama, but incredibly short on substance.
Perry portrays Wesley Deeds, the melancholy son of a corporate magnate who has risen to the CEO suite of the company that bears his father's name. Wesley's brother, Walter, is a uni-dimensional bad seed. He thinks that his "perfect" brother Wesley has usurped the position that rightly belonged to him. When Walter is not sabotaging his brother, he is leaning hard on his self-destruct button. Perry's live-in fiancé, Natalia (played by a longsuffering Gabrielle Union) is so bored with Wesley's predictability that she actually, and accurately, predicts every word out of his mouth during Wesley's morning routine. All of these rich, pampered people, we discover, are bored, bored, bored.
Enter Lindsey Wakefield (Thandie Newton) a scared, proud, penniless, single mother desperate to keep her life with her daughter from completely falling apart. Lindsey and Wesley meet in a most unattractive manner – she is angry, defiant, and rude. She is unaware that Wesley is her employer. She works as a janitor in his building. The stage is so broadly set that you can see the entire story coming, and it does, exactly the way you think it will.
While I applaud (doesn't everyone?) Wesley's emotional and financial outreach to Lindsey and her young daughter, everything happens too quickly. The script is as predictable as Perry's character.
And unlike his previous scripts, many based on his wildly successful plays, Perry avoids bringing into the story one of the elements that, up till now, always set him so fiercely apart from most mainstream Hollywood filmmakers: a spiritual foundation. This story is ripe for Wesley, Lindsey, Walter, or even Natalia, to have a spiritual epiphany that would significantly change their lives. Despite all of the problems and pain so many in the film are facing, no one prays, no one seeks pastoral guidance, instead they all are searching for the most elusive of life goals: "happiness" – with the requisite sop to the idea that everyone "deserves" it.
Good Deeds is about a man who does all the right things for all the wrong reasons. Then he learns to do some of the right things for some of the right reasons. But nothing in the film led me to believe that the path Wesley takes will lead him to the goals he seeks.
Perhaps Perry decided that he wanted to step away from the conventions that have made him such a popular filmmaker, mix it up a bit, try something different. But single mother Cinderella meets Edward Lewis from Pretty Woman was not the way to go. Perry's films nearly always open at number one at the box office -- but this week, my money's on Act of Valor.
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D., is the president of MovieMinistry.com, an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations, Bible studies and discussion cards, drawn from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people. Dr. Newman is an associate professor in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University. Requests for media interviews, or reprints of this article, can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.