|Director: Tyler Perry |
|Screenplay: Tyler Perry|
|Stars: Crystal Fox (Grace), Phylicia Rashad (Sarah), Bresha Webb (Jasmine), Mehcad Brooks (Shannon), Cicely Tyson (Alice), Tyler Perry (Rory), Matthew Law (Jordan Bryant), Donovan Christie Jr. (Donnie), Walter Fauntleroy (Malcolm), Angela Marie Rigsby (Tilsa) |
|MPAA Rating: NR|
|Year of Release: 2020|
Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace starts out as an effective domestic thriller, even as it relies heavily on many of the themes and ideas he has explored in previous films about decent women being horribly mistreated by the men around them, but it soon devolves into illogic and canned suspense. The central character, Grace (Crystal Fox), is a middle-aged divorcee who has managed to get back on her feet and build a solid life for herself when she meets Shannon (Mehcad Brooks), a handsome and successful art photographer who is several decades her junior. He is, nevertheless, very interested in her, and at the behest of her best friend, Sarah (Phylicia Rashad), Grace allows herself to become romantically involved with a man who, by all accounts, appears to be absolutely perfect—gorgeous, generous, kind, romantic—to the point of marrying him. But, as thrillers of this variety remind us over and over again, a man who seems that perfect is usually hiding something, and Shannon has some big secrets.
From the very beginning of the film we are led to believe that Grace has murdered Shannon (although the body is missing). We come to Grace by way of Jasmine (Bresha Webb), a rookie lawyer in her mid-20s who is working in the public defender’s office and has built what little reputation she has around quick plea deals. At the behest of her boss, Rory (Tyler Perry), she is dispatched to the prison to work out a plea deal for Grace, who is disheveled and in shackles and wanting to plead guilty. It seems like an open-and-shut case (all the talk radio in Jasmine’s car affirms the fact that everyone in their mid-sized city thinks she did it), but something about Grace convinces Jasmine that she is innocent, and she talks her into telling her her story, at which point she becomes determined to defend her, even though she has no support from the public defender’s office and no courtroom experience.
Although Perry has built his career primarily on comedies, many of which feature his large-and-in-charge Madea character, he has recently been moving into the terrain of the dramatic thriller, which includes Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013) and Acrimony (2018), the latter of which is also about a woman betrayed by the man she loves. Perry’s brand of comedy has always been loud and brash, and when it works you can’t help but appreciate his enthusiasm and exuberance. The enormity of his output as a writer and director since the early 2000s is duly impressive (he has written and directed more than two dozen feature films and literally hundreds of episodes from a dozen television series he has created), but that prodigiousness also results in a significant amount of thematic and narrative redundancy that sometimes feels more convenient than artistically driven. If his films have a bit of a slapdash quality despite their surface gloss, you can’t help but wonder if it isn’t because Perry is already thinking about his next project—or projects.
With A Fall From Grace, you can sense the kernel of something good, and it begins with a lot of promise. But, once he moves beyond the contours of the central drama, in which Grace allows herself to drawn into Shannon’s orbit despite her well-placed reservations, and starts pouring on the thriller dynamics, it becomes more and more absurd (Perry also tips his hand too early, suggesting something sinister about a major character in a way that unnecessarily makes that character’s eventual revelation much less effective). Absurdity has always been a central tenet of Perry’s style, but it doesn’t work well in a thriller unless it’s managed with sly Hitcockian verve. The parts of A Fall From Grace that don’t work, particularly its final third, lack that verve and instead feel like a sloppy attempt to tie all the threads together in a way that answers all the questions, but in a perfunctory way. There are a few gasps to be had, but by the end I found myself sighing much more.
Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick
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