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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Good Deeds

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry) is a wealthy San Francisco businessman who runs the family-owned software company his now deceased father started. He’s a gentleman, 5th generation Ivy League educated,  and soon to be married to Natalie (Gabrielle Union). His brother Walt (Brian White) is spoiled, not trustworthy, and envious of his brother/ Walt wants to run the company. Their mother Wilhelmina (Phylicia Rashad) obviously favors Wesley but she quietly controls the path he walks. Wesley never questions his life; he does what is expected of him, one day pretty much the same as the next.
 
But one day a woman, Lindsay (Thandie Newton), parks in his spot and refuses to move her car. She is desperate and on the verge of being evicted from her apartment. She leaves her young daughter in the car while she goes to collect her paycheck. Walt calls the tow truck but when Welsey sees the child he tells the driver that he can go.
 
This chance encounter with Lindsay and her daughter Ariel (Jordann Thompson) has two effects: Wesley moves outside his patterned life and does selfless good deeds for strangers and begins to reflect on taking responsibility for his own life rather than just do what is expected of him.
 
A few years ago “Entertainment Weekly” listed Tyler Perry as the 7th smartest man in Hollywood. He knows his audience and the themes of his films are usually about African American life and stories. He is very well known for the Madea character he created. I saw a clip of Perry on a talk show to promote this film and he can slip from his polished professional demeanor into Madea without taking a breath. He’s very funny.
 
I have long been a fan of Tyler Perry. He is a one-man marvel. He has been writing plays since he was 18 and writes, directs, produces and acts in most of his movies.  He usually includes God in his films, but not in “Good Deeds”.  Instead, Perry lives his faith by actions. He reaches out to strangers and wants to go to Africa to dig wells for water with two of his college friends.
 
This is a movie about the very rich and the very poor. It is being released just as this topic is the fodder of the current political campaign.  “Good Deeds” has a lot of heart and Tyler Perry has the sweetest face in Hollywood.
 
That’s the good news.
 
The not-so-good news is that “Good Deeds” will remind you from the start of “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006) where Will Smith played real life Chris Gardner, a homeless dad who had to take care of his son and eventually goes on to become a millionaire. Thandie Newton plays the wife and mother as well. The skyscape of San Francisco and the lines of the homeless made me wonder why on earth Perry didn’t at least change cities. The Lindsay-Ariel storyline seems to be the same one as that of Chris Gardner and his son, too. The scene of mother and daughter in the custodian’s closet us reminiscent of the scene of Gardner and his son sleeping in the subway bathroom.
 
Perry’s films have often been criticized for being preachy and reinforcing African-American stereotypes.  “Good Deeds” is not preachy and more than reinforce African-American stereotypes seems to support the stereotype that a woman needs a man to rescue her. There is a predictable Cinderella theme in “Good Deeds” that may annoy some folks. On the other hand Newton’s Lindsay is a strong woman and I would be willing to concede that perhaps Wesley and Lindsay end up saving each other.
 
Perry is a good actor and it was a relief not to see him turn the story into a Medea film as happened in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005).  This film started out with the feel of reading a quality paperback and turned into a farce that barely came up for a breath of redemption at the end.
 
Here’s more good news. It was refreshing to see a black man stand as a symbol of universal human experience. This cross-over appeal film, and I think it does possess this possibility, is a knife to the heart of Hollywood that pins almost all its dramas around the experience of a white middle-aged male as standing in for the life experience of the world.
 
Someone told me at the one press screening that Perry permitted in Los Angeles that his opening weekend box office is always guaranteed to be strong. His fan base is that loyal. He knows his audience. But with “Good Deeds” he is reaching beyond and if anyone can fuse audiences in America, Perry can do it.
 
Now let’s see which filmmaker will be able to tell a compelling story that holds up a female of any race as the symbol of universal human experience without relegating it to the chick-flick bin.
 
Homelessness is a fact in America and “Good Deeds” shows how one act of kindness can change the lives of everyone involved. Tyler Perry and the film’s distributor Lionsgate have teamed up with Covenant House (that offers a place to live for runaway youth)  in a campaign called “Good Deeds: Great Deeds”. Visit the website to see how you can pay it forward for the good things in your life this Lent: www.gooddeedsgreatneeds.com.


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