Written and Directed by: Tyler Perry
Starring: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams, Robbie Jones, Renee Taylor, Brandy Norwood, Vanessa Williams
For most married couples, there comes a time when they take each other for granted and imagine what it would be like to be with someone else. Commonly referred to as “the seven-year itch,” it’s a phenomena that’s deeply rooted in our monogamy-eschewing fast times. From that relatable concept comes writer-director Tyler Perry’s TEMPTATION. Based on his play Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor, this is the tale of a smart young married gal who strays from her core beliefs and winds up corrupted. Though this cautionary tale brings to light some very pressing issues such as fidelity, religion, and sexually transmitted diseases, Perry delivers the message in an absurdly extreme, heavy-handed package wherein his altruistic message is lost.
TEMPTATION opens and closes in an unnamed marital counselor’s modest office where she’s counseling a young married couple. It becomes apparent that the wife has begun an affair, motivating the counselor to tell her “sister’s story.” We flash back to Judith and Brice (Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Lance Gross), high-school-sweethearts-turned-young-marrieds living in Washington, DC. Brice works at a local pharmacy with Melinda (Brandy Norwood) and Judith is an ambitious psychologist at a top dating agency run by thick-French-accented Janice (Vanessa Williams). Though there’s room for improvement, Judith and Brice are fairly happy. That is, until handsome social media billionaire Harley (Robbie Jones) enters the picture, exposes cracks in Judith’s marriage, and shakes her foundation. Surrendering to forbidden desires, Judith goes on a reckless path of destruction and irreversibly changes the course of her life.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition to set a film about being trapped in a loveless marriage and feeling boxed in by religion in our nation’s capital – a town that represents freedom. Alexander Gruszynski’s cinematography is sleek, entrancing, and lures viewers into this lurid tale. Eloise Crane Stammerjohn’s production design brilliantly echoes the characters’ traits: Just like their relationship, Judith and Brice’s apartment is rather unremarkable and claustrophobic; Harley’s modern condo (replete with a glass bubble chandelier) is seductive; and Judith’s brick office building with glass inner walls reflects the confinement of tradition. Perry also nails the atmospheric tone – that is, until it all spectacularly collapses into unintentional camp in a cloud of cocaine dust.
Even though Perry does multiple things right with this film (as I’ve outlined here), there’s a lascivious undertone coursing through TEMPTATION’s veins that I can’t ignore. Plus it plays like a horror movie for feminists – reinforcing tired, old stereotypes of biblical servitude and submission to men. This film truly made my feminism hurt. Judith is consistently chastised by her mother for not cooking and doing her wifely duties for her husband. Brice even complains about it to his mother-in-law. Yet he never steps up either and isn’t dealt much in the way of consequences. Judith says multiple times that she’s got the drive – but not the cash – to open up her own marriage counseling firm. So it’s puzzling when the new guy sweeps her off her feet by saying things like, “if you were my woman, you wouldn’t have to work.” And she surrenders to him knowing he’s got an irrational mean streak in him. Then during the third act, when Harley destroys Judith’s promising future, it becomes Perry’s heavy-handed lesson of “Women, if you cheat, you’ll get HIV and end up alone!” It’s a unnecessarily depressing turn of events. You may see some redemption when she returns back to her faith, but at what cost?!
This film is preachy, but does Perry take it to church? Kinda. As the layers are peeled back, the unintentional camp reveals itself. Brandy Norwood plays her role as if it’s a cameo in an ABC Family movie. She even makes Kim Kardashian’s acting look less terrible and flat than it is. Also problematic is that due to the film’s PG-13 rating, Perry can’t take the film as far and as dark as he clearly wants to take it, which makes the sizzle fizzle.
Though the film didn’t fully resonate with me, I can’t help but admire Perry’s intent and the sentiment behind this tale. His philanthropic message is good; however, the execution isn’t up to the same level.
1.5 out of 5