An absurd, hysterically incompetent thriller from Tyler Perry that is easily, and unintentionally, the funniest film of this still-young year so far.
Through sheer coincidence, I found myself watching Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace (Netflix) less than 24 hours after watching Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy, which is a bit like eating a filet mignon for lunch and a Big Mac for dinner. They’re both films about someone wrongly incarcerated for committing a violent crime, and the go-getter lawyer — or, in this case, public defender — who makes it their mission to set them free. One, however, is a formulaic but emotionally resonant true story, and the other is a movie by Tyler Perry.
And you know A Fall From Grace is a Tyler Perry movie because for some reason he insists on slotting his own name into all of his films’ marketing, as though it’s redolent with a kind of unmissable auteur intensity rather than an obvious signifier of truly terrible garbage. And his latest effort, his first on Netflix, is a perplexingly awful though unintentionally riveting mish-mash of Hitchcockian tropes, braindead melodrama, and bizarre courtroom theatrics; so brazenly terrible is this film that I can’t help but recommend it as a kind of anti-cinema thought exercise — the kind of film you watch to remind you how difficult basic competence can be to achieve, and how thankful we should sometimes be for it.
Two hours I spent watching this film, which is about, at least at first, Grace (Crystal Fox), a middle-aged woman who has eagerly confessed to the murder of her much younger second husband. Young public defender Jasmine (Bresha Webb) is tasked by her boss (Perry, the extent of whose role is to antagonistically complain about funding) to secure a plea deal, but after an enigmatic meeting, Jasmine determines that Grace is innocent and resolves to prove as much with the help of Grace’s kindly best friend Sarah (Phylicia Rashad, the film’s highlight by quite a margin).
So far, so in-line with examining miscarriages of justice — particularly those committed unfairly against black people — that, thanks to holiday release schedules, became a running theme leading into the new year. But A Fall From Grace, which was shot across five days, was presumably written in even less time and makes no secret of either fact, isn’t content to just be an inept legal thriller. Thus, in a bonkers finale, twist after twist maneuvers this artless swill into ludicrous you-wouldn’t-believe-me-if-I-told-you territory, and I will not be telling you, because all of the film’s backward pleasures are in quite how far Perry is willing to go when it comes to shocking his audience into stunned hysterics.
Of course, ironic enjoyment can only take you so far, and despite how capably the film entertains, the fact it’s doing so for entirely the wrong reasons shouldn’t go unremarked upon. The inane dialogue, half-hearted performances, uselessly thin characters, illogical plotting, and sub-par production values are not, in and of themselves, any fun at all — it’s only the manic energy and the sheer willingness to cobble together so many half-baked ideas that keep A Fall From Grace afloat. Afloat, though, is a relative term, and for all the upsides of Netflix’s global popularity, an obvious downside is that it provides a place where Tyler Perry’s peculiar brand of self-indulgent slipshod claptrap can flourish. Now there’s an injustice.