Movies

Tyler Perry’s ‘A Fall From Grace’ Is A Must-Watch, Tommy Wiseau-Esque Classic

The beauty of Tyler Perry is that when he releases a movie called “A Fall From Grace,” you can rest assured that the main character will be named “Grace.” That is the Tyler Perry promise.

Crystal Fox plays Grace in A Fall From Grace, written and directed by Perry, which hit Netflix this past Friday. It’s difficult to know the internal workings of a company like Netflix, but it certainly seems that they practice less creative oversight than traditional studios, a situation that combines in A Fall From Grace to give us Tyler Perry in his purest form. A Fall From Grace is Tyler Perry the way he was meant to be experienced.

Tyler Perry’s entire MO is a certain kind of artistic laxness, an ability to see his first thought through to completion without letting the slightest complication or self-editing creep in. It truly is a certain kind of superpower. His stories are almost always about an evil woman, the main character’s name generally makes a play on words in the title, and that’s about as far as the idea ever goes (As in Good Deeds, in which Perry played “Wesley Deeds). His movies offer the twin comforts of recognizing the familiar and not thinking too hard. I’m saying he’s a real first-draft daddy, and I’m here for it.

A Fall From Grace elevates half-assedness to the level of art. It was reportedly filmed in just five days. It’s shot with cinematography borrowed from a Brinks Home Security commercial on sets that look like an IKEA showroom using wigs and costumes borrowed from the drama department of a local high school and extras who seem like they filled in between stops on a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing tour (Perry’s frequent clashes with unions are well known). It has a plot that manages to be frequently nonsensical even as it is head-slappingly straightforward. When a muttering old woman in a dirty bathrobe (played by Cicely fucking Tyson, no less) wanders through the background of Phylicia Rashad’s house in the first act, you can bet that yes, Phylicia Rashad’s character will turn out to be the villain in the third.

One thing A Fall From Grace never is is boring. Even when the story gets dull you have to keep your eyes peeled for magnificent continuity errors, like an extra eating invisible food in the background of a restaurant scene:

In another, Perry appears to have used CGI to correct the appearance of a front door:

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You have to wonder what was so unacceptable about the appearance of that door that it was cheaper to use bad graphics instead of just changing out the door. Doors aren’t expensive. Certainly this one wasn’t, considering it looked like it was about to disintegrate every time the actor knocked on it.

Almost every scene is full of little mysteries like this, which is part of what makes A Fall From Grace so oddly compelling. All the men in A Fall From Grace look like sexy models from a perfume ad (albeit with bigger hair) and are incapable of any emotional task more complicated than making a smoldering face while breezily tossing a designer sportcoat over their shoulder. Which makes even their most throwaway moments unintentionally hilarious. Like this scene, of Grace’s cop husband trying to console her:

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Such a naturalistic pose! I always situate my body for maximum ab definition when I’m lovingly caressing my wife’s face.

I suppose we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. There’s also the plot (the plot!), easily A Fall From Grace‘s most surreal element. This involves Jasmine (Bresha Webb), a 26-year-old assistant public defender recently assigned to defend Grace Waters (Crystal Fox), who has been charged with killing her husband. When the lead public defender, played by Tyler Perry in a very bad wig, assigns Jasmine the case, it’s only because he wants her to plead it out as quickly as possible, “so that this media circus can end” (his words, we the audience are unaware of this circus until he references it).

So Jasmine goes to meet with Grace, who it turns out is wearing a wig nearly as bad Tyler Perry’s. Later Perry makes the inexplicable decision to film her showering in it:

When Jasmine first meets with Grace, Grace is dejected. Grace wants to plead guilty. Grace is fine with getting life without the possibility of parole, all she asks is that she be allowed to serve her sentence near her son — who is mentioned multiple times in the film and shown briefly once. Jasmine’s boss (Perry) wants her to get the plea deal signed and get out of there. Yet Jasmine’s coworkers question her dedication to the cause and demand that she defy her boss and get the full story out of Grace before agreeing to anything.

People keep goading Jasmine, to the point that her character essentially consists of Person Being Goaded. And yet… it’s hard to figure out what they actually want. A defense of the character who seems to want to go to prison? To get her to convince Grace to fight the charge? It’s clear that Perry prizes the mere existence of revelations above their individual logic.

So Jasmine starts talking to Grace, and gets the story, through a series of flashbacks. It turns out Grace met a much-younger photographer at a gallery opening and was promptly seduced by him despite him looking like the villain in a movie about a horse who plays football.

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He romances her in brightly lit diners, barely getting kisses on the cheek for his troubles, until he eventually proposes to her in a field of fireflies. (Ah, the old firefly move!)

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As you may have already surmised from his excess rings and untrustworthy scarves, Grace’s new husband turns out not to be on the up and up. He has somehow embezzled funds from the bank where she works (let’s not even get into the details of how this happens) and gotten her fired. Worse, he pulls his firefly trick on much younger ladies, who he brings back to Grace’s house to have sex with right in front of her face, calling her “mom” as he towels off, just to add insult to injury (villains, like contrasts, are not subtle in Tyler Perry movies). Grace finally gets fed up and takes a baseball bat upside the guy’s head, producing not just spatters of blood but ribbons, as if someone was just behind the camera squirting Grace with chocolate syrup.

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As great as A Fall From Grace is to watch, a cinema verité-style documentary about the shooting of the movie sounds incredible.

At this point you might wonder: what the hell is Jasmine’s defense going to be, now that we know that Grace really did take a bat upside her husband’s head until he leaked thick ropes of blood at her? She’s not exactly… wrongly accused.

To argue her case, which has gone to trial by this point, Jasmine inexplicably calls the Phylicia Rashad character to the stand. This character first avers that sweet old Grace is a harmless church lady who could never hurt a fly. But then, after some incredibly light prompting from the DA on cross, admits that Grace told her she’d killed her husband after all. After this exchange, Jasmine is offered the opportunity to question her again on redirect. Dejected, Jasmine declines and… rests her case.

At this point, it’s clear that Jasmine is one of the worst lawyers of all time. She’s hit rock bottom, but after come-to-Jesus speeches from her friends, husband, and boss, she seems determined to turn this trial around. It all seems to be leading up to that emotional, mom’s spaghetti crescendo. So the next day, when prompted to give her closing argument, Jasmine, a look of determination on her face… simply tries to call Phylicia Rashad back to the stand. The judge keeps telling her she can’t do that because she’s already rested, and she just keeps right on calling her witness three or four times, until the judge rightly declares her to be in contempt of court and sends her to jail.

It’s only after the jury finds Grace guilty that Grace, upon leaving the courtroom, sees Phylicia Rashad’s character wearing Grace’s “dead” husband’s necklace that she realizes what’s going on. They were in cahoots this whole time!

The rushed finale sees Jasmine (who it bears repeating is a shockingly incompetent attorney) get out of jail, infiltrate Phylicia Rashad’s house, find the live husband (with a bandage on his head) along with a dungeon full of old people (apparently Phylicia Rashad was stealing their money or something???) before getting rescued by her own husband. You could call these spoilers but it’s really the execution that makes them shine (along with the aforementioned CGI door). After all this, the case against Grace is dismissed.

So, to recap, Grace had been on trial for killing a man whose body hadn’t been found. She was later acquitted on all charges, despite admitting that she had tried to kill him. Meanwhile, his evil plan had apparently taken this traumatic head injury as part of the cost of doing business. What a tangled web we weave…

There’s a Shakespearian element of A Fall From Grace in which Tyler Perry is forced to come up with increasingly complex situations, simply to write his way out of his own half-assed scenarios. Hoisted on his own IKEA curtain rod. The way he struggles with his own persona, not through the story but in its transparent and ever-present subtext (the evil women, the hunky men, the religiosity), is reminiscent of Tommy Wiseau in The Room.

Tyler Perry may be one of our most compelling filmmakers, even if it’s not in the way he intends.

‘A Fall From Grace’ is currently streaming on Netflix. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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