A wise child makes a glad father,
but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but righteousness delivers from death.
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow Galatians 6:7
Director/writer Tyler Perry turns more to soap opera than screw ball comedy in his second film re leased this year. Older viewers might see this as an interracial Thelma and Louise with wealthy Char lotte (Kathy Bates) teamed up with her long-time friend Alice (Alfre Woodard) who half way through the film set out on a cross country trip. Younger viewers might focus on the hostile rivalry between two sisters. Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) and Pam (Taraji P. Henson). Daughters of Alice whose meager resources could afford to send but one of them to college, Andrea graduates with honors, whereas Pam stays behind to help their mother run the Wing and a Prayer diner, a place where no one is ever turned away for want of money. The film begins with the now snobbish Andrea marrying her high school sweetheart Chris (Rockmond Dunbar), though why we are not told, their differences in educational level now being so great. When at the wedding Alice’s son William (Cole Hauser) meets them, he offers each of them a job—to Andrea a high level position on his staff, and to Chris a worker’s position as a member of his large construction crew.
Jump to four years later, and Andrea becomes distant to Chris as she becomes closer with William, their affair jeopardizing his marriage to his wife Jillian (Kadee Strickland) as well as Andrea’s. Chris dreams of starting up his own construction company in partnership with best friend and fellow worker Ben (Tyler Perry), the latter married to Pam. However, Ben is content with his life with Pam as it is, their two incomes allowing them to live frugally but comfortably. At the company matters are troubled when Charlotte, not trusting her own son, brings in the experienced Abby (Robin Givens) as the CEO of the company. William is upset because he has just brokered a deal with an Asian company, but Abby quickly sees the flaws in his deal. Thus mother and son become adversaries, setting off a struggle for control of the company. Against all of this intrigue is the strange sequence in which Charlotte convinces her friend Alice to accompany her on the cross-country trip she has dreamt of all her life.
Thankfully there are no flatulent jokes or over the top characters this time, the film nonetheless still being a morality tale of the consequences of sinful behavior. Alice’s simple trust in God forms the basis of all of her relationships as in a church scene she shares her faith with her dear friend—later, on their trip, she even convinces Charlotte to be baptized. (Unfortunately this at first welcomed scene does not ring true.) For his first inclusion of a white cast into his story, Tyler Perry does well, though the film is far too flawed with it soap opera devices to be as good a film experience as it might have been.
For Reflection/discussion Spoilers follow.
1) This is Tyler Perry’s first use of whites as major characters in his story. Although he is not one to dwell on racism, such as Spike Lee, where in the film do you see this subject subtly included?
2) Most of the characters are either good or bad. To which were you attracted, and which repelled you? How is Charlotte the exception—that is how is she both ruthless entrepreneur and loyal unprejudiced friend? How might her business and mothering style have contributed to the defects in William character?
3) Although Chris is depicted as the good guy, were you shocked by his hitting Andrea in the face? Or by the director’s manipulation of the audience into approving (and possibly cheering) this act?
4) What do you think of Ben’s contentment with his lot? Pretty counter-cultural? (Check out Matt. 6:19-34).
5) How does the story bear out the apostle Paul’s warning to the Galatians?
6) What did you think of the baptism scene? I was hoping to add it to my list of such memorable ones as in Tender Mercies, Ladder 49, or the Coen’s own O Brother, Where Art Thou, but was disappointed in that it became merely a plot device. Given the meaning of the Sacrament, did you see any sign of repentance or desire for change in Charlotte? Any indication that the minister, and not Alice, was in charge of the service? Indeed, were there any words to the ceremony? Any sign afterwards of a change of life as they cruise the bars? (Compare the scene right after the baptism in tender mercies.)
7) Does the film deal with faith and suicide? At the funeral Alice recalls her friend’s challenging question, “Are you living, or are you existing?” What do you believe is the difference? Who in the film is “living” and who is merely “existing” ?