Lionsgate // 2013 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 29th, 2013
Betrayal burns forever.
I do not understand the popularity of Tyler Perry's empire. I find his comedy unfunny and his drama unconvincing. However, I will give him at least one point: he refuses to repeat himself. He revisits certainly, and he only has a handful of notes to play. At the same time, those notes keep getting louder and louder, and there's something admirable in an auteur sticking to his guns in the way that Perry seems to be doing with Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. Though the film offers very little new thematic material for his fans to chew on, the sheer volume of his exhortations makes it one of his better offerings.
A marriage counselor (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, The Great Debaters) narrates to one of her clients the story of a woman who's tempted into a life of sin by a rich mogul.
Tyler Perry fundamentally misunderstands melodrama. Based on his public persona and the reception of his films, it would seem that he wants to use the form of the melodrama to provide parables about good living. In most of his films, the bad are punished and the good are rewarded. What tension there is comes out in just how much the good will have to suffer before they are ultimately redeemed. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor is no different. Even the film's subtitle indicates that the film will be a confession, and the structure of the film is one of attempted parable. Our titular marriage counselor tells a story to help another woman learn a lesson.
That's all well and good, but melodrama as a form is much more suited to the pleasures of sin than the presentation of redemption. Temptation is, on the level of plot, arguing that marriage is sacred and shouldn't be strayed from. On the level of the visual, however, Temptation makes sin look a lot more enticing than marriage, and it takes some heavy handed narrative machinations (AIDS scare!) to hammer home the consequences of vice. This shouldn't surprise us, as the masters of melodrama -- Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbender, Todd Haynes -- were all using the form to do something subversive. They came down on the side of the visual and used their considerable cinematic powers precisely to undermine the staid qualities of middle-class life, demonstrating its hypocrisy along the way. Temptation doesn't seem to want to do that, so it's left shrieking at viewers about the dangers of sin while making it look like fun.
The best thing about Temptation, is not its moral message, but the fact that it has taken Perry to his logical extreme (or at least as extreme as he's going to get with less than an R rating). Brice is clearly a terrible partner, but Judith is the guilty party, which makes her descent into sin all the more justifiable. So Perry uses his camera to show us the world of decadence and unrestrained sexuality that Judith finds herself in, and he takes to it like a duck to water. Though he's got nothing on Sophia Coppola's slow-mo club work in The Bling Ring, Perry does seem overly invested in showing us Judith's decent. In a Sirk or Fassbender film, this might ring as an endorsement of her liberation, but in Perry's hands, it just feels like Perry trying to justify the terrible things that have to happen to Judith once she is no longer invested in her marriage.
Which is all to say that with Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Tyler Perry has done nothing to change his fundamental position. Those who have enjoyed Perry's forays into the dramatic (as opposed to his comedic Madea films) in the past will almost certainly enjoy this one. Those who were hoping that Perry would get off his soapbox and tell a story about some characters that didn't have some external, moralistic motivation will be disappointed by this outing.
At least Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (Blu-ray) is okay. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is solid all around. Detail is strong in closeups, and skin tones are well-handled. Colors pop with appropriate dazzle, and black levels are consistent and deep. The film is hardly a visual feast, but Perry's vision is well-represented here. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is similarly spot-on. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, while the rest of the speakers get a workout during scenes in a club, which showcases the tracks fidelity. Of course it's a dialogue-driven film, so don't expect a whole lot of movement in the soundscape.
Extras consist of a pair of featurettes. The first spends a bit of time on the film's costumes, while the other looks at the fine ensemble cast that Perry has brought together. An Ultraviolet Digital Copy is also included.
It's the cast that really sells whatever positive attributes Temptation has, including the dependable Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Vanessa Williams. I seriously wish they had better material to work with, but they elevate Perry's script into more than it would be otherwise.
Temptation puts Tyler Perry in an interesting position. He's obviously taken the dark side of his filmmaking as far as it can go with a PG-13 rating. If he wants to avoid repeating himself, he's either going to have to find a story to tell that doesn't involve salacious (and unrealistic) "descent" into sex/drugs/partying, or he's going to have to ante up and actually show viewers some of the erotic content that the plot of Temptation seems to offer without ever really showing. I suspect he'll go the retread route for his next drama, but there's always the possibility that Temptation will be his wake-up call.
Temptation will probably work for most people. For those who are already Tyler Perry fans, it's a decent example of his filmmaking style. For those who aren't fans, it's a great exercise in camp. Everything is so over-the-top (without actually showing anything, of course) that the film is the perfect excuse to throw popcorn at the screen and hoot with laughter. In that respect, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (Blu-ray) is recommended to all.
Temptation won't burn forever, so it's not guitly.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* UltraViolet Download