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If the goal of Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor is to make cheating seem as emotionally disturbing and unnerving as possible, Tyler Perry succeeds in his quest admirably. If the more pressing aim is to make a good movie, the result is more of a mixed bag. The famed director’s latest carries quite an emotional punch and will likely turn the stomachs of more empathetic viewers. Because of some poor structuring decisions and a few reveals that feel a little too obvious, however, the film will likely be written off by most outside of Perry’s familiar target demographic, which is not altogether surprising but still a shame.
The basic story arc of Temptation follows a wannabe marriage counselor named Judith (Jurnee Smollet-Bell) who is working as an overeducated matchmaker. She and her husband Brice (Lance Gross) have fallen into a monotonous and unfulfilling routine, but the natural order is upended when a rich and extremely forward man (Robbie Jones) walks into her life. She’s been assigned to help him create matchmaking software for her company, but obviously, he’s interested in a whole lot more than the specifics to make his algorithm function at full capacity.
When Temptation is at its best, it exchanges glances and subtleties. It communicates without really saying and flirts without really crossing a line. The film works when it depicts all of the tiny decisions people make to neither give in to nor completely push away temptation. Behind the suitor’s fabulous wealth and some of the unnecessary entanglements and surprise reveals that will likely make more jaded viewers groan, there’s actually some keen insight into how the mind works and why little turns of phrase can be more important than grandiose gestures. Perry has insight into people, and he does know why they behave the way they do.
Disappointingly, however, Temptation doesn’t always live in those gray areas. Sometimes it feels the need to be as aggressive and overt about its overall message as possible, becoming as melodramatic and preachy as critics have accused Perry of being all these years. For example: there’s a scene in which Brice is upset about the state of his life while at work. Instead of just showing him looking all forlorn, Perry inserts a shot of him snapping a pencil like an angry second grader who missed recess. In the grand scheme of things, that might not seem like a big deal, but it’s often those ten second snippets that let certain viewers condescendingly act like he’s a hack.
Between the acting of former Friday Night Lights star Smollett-Bell, some nice musical choices and a dozen or so scenes that are very well crafted and surprisingly honest, there’s enough here to warrant the price of admission for Perry fans. Some day, there will be enough in a Perry movie to warrant the price of admission for everyone else too, but this definitely isn’t that film, especially given how fast and forward it is with a moral agenda.