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July 20, 2014

Good Deeds

by Franz Patrick


Good Deeds (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry) has always done what was expected of him, so unlike his brother, Walter (Brian White), the rebel, who has gotten so bitter over the years, it seems like he is out to sabotage everyone who was and is good to him. And with a mother (Phylicia Rashad) who has very high expectations, she gives the impression that making a mistake is a permanent character flaw.

She insists that Wesley, the son she prefers, marries Natalie (Gabrielle Union), a woman from a respectable background who craves spontaneity and excitement in her life—qualities that do not come easily to Wesley, the CEO of Deeds, Incorporated, let alone offer to someone else. When Wesley meets Lindsey (Thandie Newton), however, the fighter in her makes him question whether the life he is living is the life he wanted.

Written and directed by Tyler Perry, “Good Deeds” possesses some elements of engaging drama, like the blossoming relationship between Wesley and Lindsey, the businessman and his janitor during graveyard shift, but the material is greatly offset by painfully one-dimensional characters like the angry brother, disapproving mother, and the fiancée with unmet needs.

I was moved by Lindsey’s situation of being a mother with a daughter (Jordenn Thompson) with whom she has to raise all on her own. The poverty that they experience together provides an obvious but nonetheless effective contrast against the posh problems in Wesley’s beautiful home and office.

I enjoyed Newton’s performance because she has a way of balancing anger and desperation without looking like the actor is out of her depth for the sake of delivering intense angst and tears. In her early scenes, especially one that takes place in a parking garage, we can almost see the wall between the two negative emotions—and their accompanying defense mechanisms—disintegrate and build up again. Despite Newton playing a character who knows how it is like to be poor, hungry, and homeless, we are given a chance experience a softer side of Lindsey eventually.

However, I wished that Wesley was not portrayed as being too good because there were times when I thought he was boring. Subtlety is clearly not the screenplay’s greatest strength because the title must be enforced consistently. It is simply too long of a wait before we finally see a change in Wesley. It would have been more interesting if the picture had consistently shown the protagonist becoming infatuated to deviate from the norm he built for himself without actually going through it. Then, once he finally does, it would make sense because the change that happened within him would not come off as forced or simply as a tool to move the plot forward.

Most unfortunate depiction is Wesley’s family being relegated to stereotypes. Due to the film’s almost two-hour running time, it does not make sense that there is not much effort in turning them into well-rounded characters. As a result, the scenes surrounding the family feel like a part of soap opera—a lot of yelling, screaming, and pointed looks in close-ups but collectively they carry little gravity.

“Good Deeds” is like a bowl of soup that consists of vegetables that I either loved or found très dégoûtant. When you have good soup with some ingredients that are unbearable to your own palate, you do not dispose the entire thing. You pick out the bad stuff and not eat them. My experience with the film is a reflection of this.

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