Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy, Morris Chestnut
Director: David M. Rosenthal
Screenplay: Alan B. McElroy, Tyger Williams
Drama/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2015
Greg, it’s a perfect time to review this next movie.
Yes, it’s Fatal Attraction for a new generation. Let’s recap.
Thirty-six-year-old Leah (Sanaa Lathan) and her boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut) are having relationship woes. She can feel her biological clock ticking away, and she wants to have a family. But Dave doesn’t. The issue is a dealbreaker for her, so she dumps him. Now Leah is back in the dating world, trying to get over Dave and move on with her life…
… when she meets Carter (Michael Ealy) – a very nice guy who brings flowers to her mother and Giants tickets to her father. He ingratiates himself to Leah, her family, and her best friends. But one night while getting gas, Carter get jealous when a man is admiring his car – which Carter mistook for unwelcome admiration of Leah. Carter beats the living tar out of the man. Leah tells him she never wants to see him again, but Carter begins stalking her. Leah appeals to the police but their hands are tied. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as Carter advances, and Leah retreats.
Greg, by calling itself The Perfect Guy, this movie gives away its premise, namely, that some poor woman is going to fall for a guy who seems too good to be true — and is. So right off the bat, we know exactly what will happen, but we don’t know how it will happen. The strength of the movie lies in its execution: Are the characters interesting, do they have depth, do they grow or change in any significant way, does the hero captivate us, etc. In short, can this movie overcome its self-inflicted predictability?
Sadly, the answer to all these questions is “not so much”. To be sure, this is a movie that is hard to dislike, thanks in large part to the sweet girl-next-door appeal of our hero Leah, who has a good heart and rotten luck with men. Her first beau, Dave, isn’t a bad guy at all; he just isn’t ready for children. We can’t even blame Leah for falling for Carter, who does and says all the right things. Herein lies the appeal of the story. We’ve all been in Leah’s shoes. We know what a risk it is to meet complete strangers and begin dating them. We’ve all seen Fatal Attraction and in the back of our minds lurks the fearful possibility that we’re falling for a Glenn Close-like character.
The Perfect Guy reminds me of last year’s No Good Deed. In it, a woman helps a man who is on the run. He seems nice enough at first, but ultimately the movie turns into a long chase scene with the plucky damsel in distress ultimately doing in the bad guy. Here, Leah does everything she should do (including calling the police) but Carter keeps coming back. The movie ends with Leah killing Carter with a shotgun.
Leah is a pretty good hero. She’s smart and resourceful. She doesn’t fall into a lump and cry because she doesn’t like her situation. She changes her phone number. She calls the police. She asserts herself and gets a restraining order. She learns to shoot a gun. This is a take-charge woman who knows what she wants.
I agree, Greg, that Leah’s hero’s journey is fairly solid. At first she lacks the ability to take control of her life and survive the threat that Carter represents. With the help of her police mentor, Detective Hansen (Holt McCallany), she learns to become self-sufficient and gains self-confidence in the process. At the beginning of the movie, this is a woman who is vulnerable; by the movie’s end, this is a woman you don’t want to mess with. She also discovers an important truth: It isn’t easy to find and fall in love with the right person, and so when you do, it’s best not to let anything come between you and the well-being of that relationship.
The supporting characters are limited in size but quite strong. Carter was indeed a wonderful guy on the surface and would have fooled me, too. He’s an effective deceptive villain. Dave is a sweet friend and lover to Leah, a strong, silent type. Detective Hansen is a bit stereotypical as the police sergeant who is limited in what he can do to help Leah, but he emerges as an indispensable help to her. Leah’s two girlfriends are rather forgettable. But overall, as with the hero’s story, we have a solid herd of supporting characters.
I liked that they gave Carter a bit of backstory to explain his evil ways. You see, Carter was adopted. And he felt abandoned by the fact that his birth parents didn’t want him. This avoids the “pure evil” character that we warn about in our book “Reel Heroes & Villains.” You want your villain to have a pain that he succumbs to – as a way of explaining why the villain turned to evil.
The Perfect Guy isn’t the perfect movie. It isn’t the perfect horror. Nor is it the perfect thriller. But it is a good way to pass a couple hours in the dark. The one thing that left me wondering is a scene Leah has with her mother. She asks Mom how she knew Dad was the one. Mom replies that he was persistent – no matter how many times she said no, he still kept on trying. It’s a nice little story. But it, too, smacks of stalking. What’s the lesson then? I don’t think anyone can parse a lesson out of this film which is why I give it a middling score of 3 out of 5 Reels.
Leah is a decent hero. As you point out, Scott, she travels a nice arc from being vulnerable to being able to fend for herself. We don’t get much backstory for her, though. It is apparently enough that she is a mature woman of thirty-something and naturally wants children. We don’t see any negative traits to her, aside from throwing out a perfectly good man just because he isn’t ready to procreate. I give Leah just 3 out of 5 Heroes.
And our secondary characters are pretty much par for the course. I enjoyed Michael Ealy’s Carter character. He was likable and sinister at the same time. The other characters (Detective Hanson, Mom and Dad, the dueling BFFs) were hardly worth writing home about. Not to mention (we almost didn’t) the bland next door neighbor who you knew was going to die from the moment you see her on the screen. I was going to give them all just two cast points, but Ealy was great in this film. So I’ve incremented their score to 3 out of 5 Cast points.
I wouldn’t recommend The Perfect Guy to couples who are on their first date or two, or to people who love being surprised by a movie’s twists and turns. There are no twists and turns in The Perfect Guy. It’s perfectly predictable, but also perfectly innocuous and semi-appealing if you don’t mind turning your brain off and basking in seeing someone else have a worse love life than yours. I give this movie 2 Reels out of 5.
The hero’s journey is quite respectable in showing how Leah transforms from a naïve, dependent woman into a strong, independent force to be reckoned with. There is excellent mentoring from the police detective and friends and allies who assist Leah on her journey. None of this is academy award material, but it’s still a decent hero’s story. I give Leah 3 Heroes out of 5.
The three main supporting characters — Dave, Carter, and Hansen – do a fine job of helping or opposing Leah. I was shocked that the cat survived this movie, as I was 100% convinced that it would be boiled to death like the bunny in Fatal Attraction. For some reason, Leah never even connected the bland neighbor’s death to Carter, which I found to be an odd omission in the film. Overall, these characters earn 3 out of 5 cast points.