Judge Clark Douglas may need some counseling to help him cope with the experience of seeing this play.
Every love has a beginning…and a mend.
I have followed the career of playwright-turned-filmmaker Tyler Perry with a mixture of admiration and disappointment. I admire the entrepreneurial talents of my fellow Georgian, and I'm a bit awestruck by how quickly Perry has turned his rather limited bag of tricks into an extremely profitable multi-medium franchise. I am disappointed by the fact that Perry continues to ruin perfectly interesting concepts and stories by unsuccessfully attempting to blend wacky comedy with serious real-life situations. His films have mostly been extremely successful at the box office, and his television show House of Payne has done quite well for TBS. Lionsgate has capitalized on Perry's success by releasing filmed versions of his plays on DVD in recent years.
The latest is The Marriage Counselor, an ensemble comedy/drama about a series of couples facing marriage problems. The title character is Judith (Tamar Davis), a marriage counselor who is having her own marital difficulties. Her husband Roger (Tony Grant) is frequently concerned about finances, and particularly worried that his wife is spending too much money on frivolous things. Judith and Roger have a lot going on in their life right now, as they are allowing Roger's father and Judith's mother to live in their home in the destructive aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The tension continues to increase between Judith and Roger as time goes by, which makes it even more difficult for Judith to deal with the problems of others.
One of Judith's new clients is Ronald (Timon Kyle Durrett), an old flame from college. Ronald is wealthy, conceited and he still has lusty desires for Judith. He claims to be having marriage problems that he really wants to work out, but his true intentions are purely adulterous. Judith can see right through him, but she's not entirely sure that she wants to reject him. Ronald still does seem pretty appealing after all of these years, despite his arrogant statements: "I don't give a damn if you're married? I'm rich!"
She also becomes friends with Lisa (Garcelle Evans), the woman responsible for cleaning the building where Judith works. Lisa has just informed Judith that she has HIV, and Judith is amazed by what a remarkably positive outlook Lisa has. We also meet Oscar (Jermaine Sellers) and Michelle (Myra Beasley), another couple having problems. Oscar is self-absorbed and mean-spirited, and refuses to treat Michelle with love or respect due to a lack of physical attraction. Finally, there's a preacher (Johnny Gilmore) who is stuck in a very challenging marriage with a stripper (Brandi Milton). Judith is "aided" in her duties by her secretary Becky (Stephanie Ferrett), who is surely the nosiest and least helpful secretary of all time.
The Marriage Counselor is yet another Perry effort that allows sloppy characterizations and poorly-written humor to tear down the house. The performances here suffer from either banal one-dimensionality or bizarre schizophrenia. The worst offenders are Ronald and Becky. The former does nothing more than smirk and offer an evil laugh on occasion, while the latter (a one-joke white girl who wants to be a black girl) engages in rude behavior that would get any secretary anywhere fired ten times over. Absolutely no subtlety can be found in the preachy dialogue that defines the characters in obvious strokes: "My Ivy League education is worth so much more than your little black Bible."
My biggest problem with the play is that none of the characters think about anything. The viewer is saddled with 142 minutes of emotion-fueled frenzy, as characters allow their whims and feelings to determine their increasingly irresponsible and irrational actions. It's the sort of thing that makes one want to bark at the screen, "Look folks, you need to sit down, shut up, and just ponder your situation for five minutes!" Alas, any time a character does actually attempt to be thoughtful another character interjects with some sort of hyperactive stand-up routine. This creates an extremely exasperating viewing experience, one with even less restraint than Perry's film and television work.
The one positive aspect of The Marriage Counselor is the music. There are about a dozen musical sequences throughout the film, most of which are in a gospel/R&B vein. These just barely manage to make the whole thing watchable, due to the fact that they provide a pleasant musical break from the mindless chaos.
The full-frame transfer is not particularly good, with a color bleeding and a general lack of detail throughout. This isn't a specific complaint about the DVD transfer, but I do wish that some of the character weren't wearing their microphones on their forehead. You might not notice if you were watching the play live, but on film it seems silly and distracting. The audio is just fine, though the distribution could be significantly better during the musical sequences. One supplement is included, a 35-minute interview session with Perry and the cast. It's much better than the actual film, due to the fact that we're dealing with actual people. Diehard Perry fans will undoubtedly want to check this out regardless of what I say, but let it be known that this is perhaps the worst Perry production I have seen thus far.
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