Ro­man­tic te­dium in “No­body’s Fool”

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Tyler Perry has re­leased 19 films in the last 12 years. He has his own pro­duc­tion com­pany and his pro­lific out­put seems in­dica­tive of the great com­mer­cial de­mand for his films. And, yet, for all the suc­cess of his films, his lat­est is as­ton­ish­ingly in­ept as a piece of film­mak­ing. I’m no Perry sa­vant but I’ve seen enough of his work to find the re­gres­sion of his work in “No­body’s Fool,” a partro­mance, part-com­edy that feels like a con­cept in search of a script, strange.

The film’s is­sues can best be summed up in the dif­fi­culty of ex­plain­ing it in a sen­tence. Best put, it’s about re­cently re­leased con­vict Tanya try­ing to save her sis­ter Dan­ica from what seems like the re­sults of cat­fish­ing. Ex­cept that does not quite ex­plain what the film is re­ally about. But what the film is about is sec­ondary to how the film works, or doesn’t work as the case may be. “No­body’s Fool” im­me­di­ately sticks out from Perry’s other works as the first R-rated com­edy of his ca­reer. This is more sig­nif­i­cant than it might sound, when Perry’s en­tire au­tho­rial voice is marked by his di­dac­tic fo­cus on re­li­gion and moral­ity as the most valu­able virtues for his char­ac­ters in the res­o­lu­tion of his sto­ries. I’ll ad­mit, more than the R-rat­ing, it was an­other typ­i­cally win­ning cast that lured me to the theatre. If noth­ing else, from his best (the very chaotic “For Col­ored Girls,” where Perry isn’t able to com­pletely neuter the power of the orig­i­nal play) to his worst, Perry’s films at­tract ex­cel­lent casts.

“No­body’s Fool” is no dif­fer­ent but it’s also sig­nif­i­cant to men­tion that the cast mem­bers are hard at work spin­ning mul­ti­ple plates on mul­ti­ple hands to make their char­ac­ters ten­able. “No­body’s Fool” isn’t as en­sem­ble fo­cussed but it fea­tures the in­trepid Tif­fany Had­dish in an­other role that cashes in on her ir­re­sistible and ir­re­press­ible nat­u­ral charm, and Tika Sumpter, who con­tin­ues to search for a film role that com­pletely recog­nises her value (she’s great in a pe­riph­eral role in David Low­ery’s “The Old Man and the Gun” this year). Add Whoopi Gold­berg in an all too rare, and all too brief comedic role and ris­ing stars Omari Hard­wick (ex­cel­lent in “Sorry to Bother You” this year) and Mechad Brooks (whose ca­reer re­ally should be some­where bet­ter af­ter a re­li­ably com­pelling turn on “Des­per­ate Housewives” a decade ago). If I seem dis­tracted by the other things this cast has been cast in, rather than the film at hand, it’s not ac­ci­den­tal.

The film’s in­co­her­ence is one of its big­gest is­sues and for all the laugh­ter of the packed theatre I saw it with, I’m not sure if it’s even a re­ward­ing film. It’s sig­nif­i­cant that the press and advertising for the film has em­pha­sised its fe­male fo­cus. Not just an R rated com­edy but an R rated com­edy with a fe­male fo­cussed in­ter­est. This is sig­nif­i­cant and valu­able in a film in­dus­try where black women are too rarely al­lowed to show de­sire and in­de­pen­dence at once. But de­spite the top billed fe­male stars at the cen­tre, “No­body’s Fool” fea­tures Perry’s consistent in­abil­ity to imag­ine women. He writes and di­rects the film, and the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a woman’s de­sire is… lim­ited.

The film opens with a lin­gerie-clad Sumpter bop­ping along to Janet Jack­son’s ‘Miss You Much’, and what should be a nice con­fi­dent-boost­ing dance is bathed in a gaudi­ness that screams male gaze. It’s a reg­u­lar morn­ing rou­tine that should be part of Danika’s own true­ness. It should re­flect a mo­ment of truth for this anal re­ten­tive strug­gling to keep her life un­der control. Ex­cept, the mo­ment is so self-con­scious, so aware of of its au­di­ence, di­rected with the tones of a di­rec­tor try­ing to show they can do “sexy” or “racy” on-screen, it ends up be­ing un­com­fort­able and awk­ward. When one of the open­ing shot zooms in on her breasts, punc­tu­ated by the sound of a man in the au­di­ence in­vol­un­tar­ily emit­ting a mur­mur, I knew we were in trou­ble. The open­ing strikes the key note for the film, though. Both in ref­er­ence to Perry’s own in­el­e­gance around sex and sex­u­al­ity and the film’s own con­fu­sion in re­la­tion to its women.

For all his fe­male fo­cused films, I’m not too sure Perry re­ally gets women – or con­tem­po­rary women. Perry’s films tend to only un­der­stand women in re­la­tion to the men around them. The hero­ines of his sto­ries must learn that good men ex­ist and a woman needs one. The vil­lai­nesses are damned be­cause they do not re­alise this. More

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