New year, same stereotypes
Director: Bill Duke
Notable Cast: Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, Jenifer Lewis, Maeve Quinlan, Kevin Hart, Eddie Cibrian
Love and marriage doesn’t always go together with a horse and carriage. Sometimes it involves a ball and a chain.
Not Easily Broken is a melodrama of marital discontent, and at times it seems like a continuation of Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? T. D. Jakes, Bishop of the Potter’s House congregation in Dallas, has preached and written about human struggles for years. In 2004 his novel Woman Thou Art Loosed was adapted to the screen without much fanfare beyond core demographics.
Some might think Not Easily Broken is piggybacking on Perry’s success, who hit it big a year later with Diary of a Mad Black Woman – maybe it is – but both Perry and Jakes emphasize sympathy, resilience and forgiveness. But to reach these emotional zones involves anger. Lots of it.
The story opens on the wedding of Dave and Clarice Johnson. So very happy they are on that day of wedded bliss. Dave (Morris Chestnut) dreamed to be a professional baseball player; Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) wanted success in real estate. Like clockwork, predictability sets in when we see the couple years later. Dave’s dream vanishes after tearing his ACL. Now he’s a building contractor who also teaches a group of inner-city kids for a little league team. Clarice realizes her dream, and together with her husband they live well beyond their means buying items they don’t really need.
They are slowly drifting apart, but it becomes accelerated after a car accident. Now it is Clarice that has to rehab a leg injury – shattered and twisted every which way. Dave assumes responsibilities of paying bills and trying to encourage his wife’s progress, which is hampered by Clarice’s bitter, interfering, man-hating(?) mother (Jenifer Lewis).
Bill Duke, whose most identifiable movie roles are alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and Predator, to my surprise, has been directing for television and film since the late ’70s. He’s a competent enough director, aside from the continual use of time-lapsed photography to show the progression of time, but the material is simplified by Brian Bird’s script. The themes are poorly constructed and understated. Randomness and foolish foreshadowing don’t always work in pairs. Nor does a late swerve into tragedy. And for story like this, race is barely relevant. Marital woes affect all classes of people. The fact that this story centers on a black couple only evokes stereotypes of past films. It also makes me wonder what’s with all the anger.
Some of the emotional outbursts could have been downplayed by common sense. For one scene Clarice is upset that Dave spends more time coaching the little league team than he does with her. Well he’s being proactive, a volunteer. She’s ambitious and materialistic. Her life is her work. Clarice is too consumed with her job to connect the dots of what Dave wants: a child.
Not Easily Broken, while following the Tyler Perry model of filmmaking – notable stars and a wafer-thin script that attempts to educate and inspire – is an okay-enough movie. Taraji P. Henson and Morris Chestnut play their roles well, and Jenifer Lewis is her usual self, in the overbearing mother role. If anything, I’m interested to see what Bill Duke will direct next. I’d hate for him to always be known as one of the many guys Arnold killed in Commando.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator, Taraji P. Henson, Tyler Perry