January 9, 2009
Not Easily Broken
If there is one trend in the box office
lately that has gone virtually unnoticed, it’s the quiet rise of the inspirational movie.
This trend turned Tyler Perry into the
least talked about box office star in
America. It has most recently been seen in the word-of-mouth success of Fireproof, a firefighter film
that has no buzz, no stars (unless you love Growing Pains enough to count Kirk Cameron), and
unexpectedly okay box office.
So perhaps it isn’t a surprise to see
spiritual adviser/multimedia superstar T.D. Jakes enter this field. Not Easily Broken, his second
foray into film, has him wearing hats as producer, co-writer, author of the source material, and an onscreen presence.
Directed by Bill Duke, Not Easily Broken is a melodrama, targeted toward black audiences, that details a quietly fizzling marriage
between David (a pleasant Morris Chestnut), a former baseball player sidelined by injury, and his perky, fussy realtor wife (Taraji P.
Henson). He wants a family. She wants a nice career and lifestyle. For fun, he plays basketball with the boys and coaches a kids baseball
team. For fun, she …. hassles everyone. When she injures herself in an auto accident, he takes a friendly interest in her physical therapist
and her child. This doesn’t sit well with her suspicious mother.
Say what you will about his filmmaking
knowledge, but Jakes knows marriage and the accompanying male expectations. He wouldn’t be in the business he’s in if he didn’t. Yet advising
millions of people is about dealing in generalities. The best art is about finding specifics. These aims are at cross-purposes.
Any film with more than one emergency room
visit must be considered a cheesy melodrama. Somehow Not Easily Broken manages to be cheesy and
emotionally honest at the same time. I think it does pretty well in achieving “direct tenderness,” the key trait of melodrama as identified by
Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Actually, it might be very interesting to see what Fassbinder would do with the same story, rife as it is with
implications of class, race, and love. But this isn’t that film.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com