Wednesday, January 28, 2009

AverageBro Goes To The Movies: Not Easily Broken.

[Editor's Note: Two movies in one month! Wooo Hoooo!]

Capturing and conveying spirituality in mainstream Black movies is difficult and seldom done correctly. Whether it's over the top foolishness like Kingdom Come or ham handed and riddled with bad sangin' like The Gospel, this latest Hollywood ploy to get black butts in seats usually misfires. And just in case ya'll haven't noticed, "Chuuch Movies" are the new "Urban Romantic Comedy". I sure hope Nia Long and Larenz Tate invested well.

Bishop TD Jakes' first foray into this burgeoning genre was 2004's Woman Thou Art Loosed, which was actually a serious drama. If you asked me to tell you what it was about 5 years later, I couldn't, but I do remember it being a fairly good movie. And chances are, if you go to see Jakes' newest creation, Not Easily Broken 5 years from now, you'll have the same reaction: solid, but forgettable.

Not Easily Broken finds "Urban Romantic Comedy" veteran Morris Chestnut trying to regain some career footing in dramatic role. Once probably the most likable (by the ladies) black actor around, Chestnut made the career-killing decision to branch out into action superstar territory with such duds as Half Past Dead (where he unconvincingly played the bad guy), Anacondas 2, and The Cave. If you've never seen either of those movies, join the crowd. Thankfully, Chestnut, who's never been what anyone would remotely consider a master thespian, is the highlight of what is otherwise a sometimes drab, depressing, and slowly paced movie.

Dave (Chestnut) is a blue collar worker whose professional wife Clarice (Taraji P. Henson, in a very unlikable role) would rather chase paper than settle down and start a family. His meddling mother-in-law (Jennifer Lewis, whom you'll wanna slap repeatedly in this movie) can't stay out of their business, and when the couple has an unfortunate car accident that leaves Clarice incapacitated, the marriage begins to crumble. Despondent and alone, Dave begins to fall for Clarice's physical therapist (Maeve Quinlan, who looks eerily like Cindy McCain) against the advice of his best friends (an annoying Kevin Hart and token white guy Eddie Cibrian). Will the marriage last through tumult or will it be Easily Broken?

What I can appreciate about this movie is that it deals with some very, very real issues that real married people encounter. Outside stress. Meddlesome in-laws. Financial problems. Shattered dreams. Drifting apart. Lack of "together time". Mortgages. Popr communication skills. Hardheadedness. Generational curses. Lack of spiritual grounding. The dangerous allure of "stepping out". Unexpected hardship. Friends with good intentions and bad advice. Complacency. It's all here, and you might argue that there's too much of it at times, especially when you figure in a number of subplots (one involving The Wire's Wood Harris) that simply complicate things. It's a classic example of more is less.

That said, even for its minor flaws, this is a pretty good way to blow $40. Chestnut is convincing and sympathetic in his role as a tortured husband who feels he just can't win. Any married man surely knows what this feels like at times, and the convincing manner in which it's conveyed makes this easily Chestnut's best performance to date. Taraji Henson captures all the nuance of the ambitious, yet fragile wife. Lewis is simply amazing as the mother-in-law. It's all so real, and so well done.

The trailers make the movie difficult to describe, but it's a real, legit urban drama, and one that (thankfully) doesn't end with a nicely wrapped bow to make you feel good as you leave the theater. In lesser hands (and you know who I'm talking about) this movie would have been riddled with bad acting, pointless plot machinations, and unnecessary comic relief. In greater hands (although director Bill Duke does a great job) given the subject matter, this might (I stress the word might) have had the potential to be a 4.5 star effort.

As is, it's merely a very good movie, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. TD Jakes (whose book the movie is titled after) and Bill Duke have done us all a great service by putting out a thoughtful, smart, well-acted movie that more people should have seen. The fact that his flick has been out nearly 3 weeks and has made less (~$9M) than Notorious made on opening night says something about black folks' (yours truly included) priorities. Exactly what I'm not sure, but it says something.

Final Verdict: It's kinda sad that Not Easily Broken isn't doing better in theaters, but that doesn't make it a bad movie, it just means it was poorly marketed. If you wanna see a rare legitimate urban drama with good acting, no rappers, and no men in drag, pay the full ticket price and support this movie. 4 Stars (Out of 5).

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