Good Deeds (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Good Deeds (2012)

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Tyler Perry's films leave me so conflicted, and I love it.

I really liked the last film of his I watched, For Colored Girls, because it pointed toward a more artistically inclined Perry than I'd seen previously.  The melodrama of films like Madea's Family Reunion and The Family That Preys worked on me tremendously.  There is a beautiful moment in Reunion where the grandmother delivers a speech about the love of God and family, surrounded by a crystal background, that has stuck with me for years.  With every film he finds another moment like this, and it always comes in the most unexpected places.

While I was watching Good Deeds, I realized despite my respect I'd been selling him short.  For Colored Girls wasn't the sign of an artist finally coming into fruition, he'd been doing it for years with his performance art as Madea.  This is someone who used drag as a way of expressing emotions he suppresses when he is in starring roles as himself.  He utilizes various characters as ways of dealing with his troubling past and helping families come together around entertainment that teaches tolerance and respecting a diverse population.

His entire career has been a piece of performance art with revolving characters, and even the heavy-handed bluntness of Good Deeds lands in this category.  But it's always heavy, and important, in ways I'm only now understanding.

Perry makes films for a massive audience.  The noticeable tell on Wikipedia is where the reception for this film is noted as having a very low score on Rotten Tomatoes and a very high score with audiences.  As a public space for editing and opinions, it's noteworthy that Perry's film is one of the few to have the distinction between the two.  It seems the reliance on critics to provide a numerical basis for their opinions has completely overridden what they actually say about the film so that people have a lazy indicator of what is good or bad.

So as far as the technique is concerned, Perry's film is still a bit of a wash.  Deeds (Perry) introduces himself in heavy-handed voice-over and the Christ imagery is laid on thick with several shots of him enduring the scorching hot of his penthouse shower.  Not exactly subtle, but it's still not an automatic negative.  But he continues on with dialogue that lays out everyone's motivations as directly as possible with no room for gray areas.  There were still moments in the film where I was rolling my eyes, especially when his mother (Phylicia Rashad) criticizes him for not marrying his girlfriend (Gabrielle Union) sooner.

But there's still more to look at.  His film is a perfect example of how racism has become married even further with the growing class divide.  Not since the early 1900s' when people tried to equate the lower-classvwith the also prejudiced black population has the divide between the classes been so clear.  Only now it's illustrating the same thing, high and low class, racism is still pervasive as hell no matter what end of the spectrum you are financially.

Once again, he's not subtle about this, but levels the parallels wonderfully.  So many people seem interested in helping out the struggling Lindsey (Thandie Newton) but it's mostly out of a sense of superiority or guilt.  The same applies to the lofty rich status of Deeds and his brother (Brian J. White) who, in spite of some irredeemable behavior, rightly tells an arrogant white businessman, "You'd rather claw at your grave than watch two brothers beat you at your own game."  And he's right.

Mass marketed entertainment has a too unfair reputation of being below high minded fare.  This isn't to say I appreciate one more than the other (give me Solaris over The Avengers any day of the week).  But it seems the perception of what one is doing is weighted too greatly over the other.  Perry has been struggling for years to show how racism is still pervasive in American culture, he just doesn't hit you in the head over it like some other artists, and that's just as important.

There's a place for everyone in the critical sphere.  Even the heavy handed dialogue yields occasionally funny gems like, while trying to highlight the growing class divide, when Lindsey asks Deeds how much a gallon of milk is.  He's tortured by the question, goes home, turns over and asks his girlfriend "Babe, how much is a gallon of milk?" "I don't know, you're lactose intolerant."

Sometimes the most direct answer is the best.  Perry's films do this.  Are there aspects of his fiction I find troubling?  Most definitely, especially in his earliest films where he thinks direct physical torture is an acceptable means of revenge, and he still is a bit too simple in his directorial style (I lost count of the number of times Deeds is looking thoughtful behind a desk).  In the end, they're still illuminating pieces of entertainment for the time we live in.

Not all films about race have to be Do the Right Thing (which, for the record, is a perfect film).  The blunt cyclical reminder that things are changing, but still have a long way to go, is more than worth its place.

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Good Deeds (2012)

Written and directed by Tyler Perry.
Starring Tyler Perry and Thandie Newton.

Posted by Andrew

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