He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
Putting on a business suit rather than a dress, director/writer Tyler Perry plays Wesley Deeds, an Ivy League graduate who rules the roost at the top of his family-owned computer software company. He has settled into a placid life with the expectation of marrying fiancée Natalie (Gabrielle Union), a girl with all the social credentials that will make her the ideal corporate wife. However, even she realizes that Wesley is too complacent when she glances at her watch and predicts almost precisely what he is doing at that minute. Wesley’s well off existence has two blights, his jealous and resentful brother Walter (Brian J. White) often spoils a business deal by expressing inappropriate anger; and his mother Wilimina (Phylicia Rashad), who wants to control him.
Then comes the unpleasant day when he meets the troubled building cleaning woman named Lindsey (Thandie Newton). Late trying to get her young daughter Ariel (Jordenn Thompson) to school on time, and needing to secure from her supervisor an advance on her salary so she can pay her over-due rent, Lindsay has just pulled into the parking space closest to the elevators and stairway. Wesley is just arriving, and becomes upset when he sees her exiting her car parked in his reserved space. He yells after her, heated words are exchanged, resulting in the now angry Lindsey turning and rushing up the stairs on her errand. Her request for an advance turned down by the supervisor, Lindsay returns and is dismayed to see that the tow truck called by Wesley is about to tow her car away. Now devastated and even more angry, she returns to her apartment and subsequently finds her possessions moved onto the street by her landlord. That night she finds herself forced to take Erica with her to work. We learn that she is an Iraqi war widow forced to work long hours to support herself and her little daughter.
This is when Wesley, working virtually every night at his office, discovers that Lindsay cleans the suite of corporate offices. Later, upon leaving the building, he sees Lindsey and Erica in their car. Not wanting to reveal that this is where they will be spending the night (she fears that child welfare will take custody of the child), she tells him that she is waiting for a friend to help her with the stalled car.
How their relationship develops makes for absorbing watching, even though the arc of the story is very predictable. Perry eschews most of the over-the-top comedy of his Madea series for a much more sombre tale of poverty, love, and character transformation. We see how an essentially kind-hearted man, living the epitome of the American dream of possessing great wealth, regains his connection with the world in which so many are ensnared in a life of broken dreams. Thandie Newton excellently portrays a mother driven to despair by her series of bad luck events, to which her quick temper contributes a measurable share. Both Wesley and Lindsay are good for each other, each affecting the other in positive ways.
This is a film for romantics, especially the conclusion, which probably is too pat for some who prefer more realism to feeling good as the end credits roll. One of the best things about the film is that, like a number of other recent ones, the characters exist in a world in which some African Americans are depicted as successful and well off, faced, like the majority population, with life issues in which race is not a factor—instead it is the question of finding the life that is authentic and fulfilling.
1. What kind of a person is Wesley Deeds at the beginning of the film? How is he practically on automatic pilot? What seems to be the “script” for his life? How is he depicted—not as an African American, but as a man? What other films have you seen recently in which all or most of the cast are African Americans, but race is not an issue? Indeed, what mixed race comedies have you seen in which the members of different races are best friends? (I am especially impressed by the series of films made by a “white” Baptist church in Albany, Georgia—the city that fought against The Albany Movement’s desegregation campaign in 1961-62—in which blacks and whites are colleagues and friends, as in Courageous.)
2. What is Lindsey like when we first see her? How does her temper contribute to her problems?
3. What are the other characters like? Natalie? Mother Wilimina? Brother Walter?
4. How does Wesley learn that it’s best not to judge a person until you know more of her story? How is Lindsey good for him? How do we see that he is he disconnected from the “real” or ordinary world? (Note how this has been a consistent charge made against one of the wealthy Presidential candidates.)
5. What do you think of the way in Which Natalie and Walter evolve? Do you find the ending believable? How might you rewrite the ending to make it so? Tyler Perry does not bring in gospel references as he has done in earlier films: and yet where do you see the hand of God at work?