STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes
• Cast interviews

The Pitch

“It’s Tyler Perry’s Questionable Morality meets Tyler Perry’s Affinity for Traditional Values!”

The Humans

Tamar Grant, Tony Davis, Palmer Williams Jr., Myra Beasley, Brandi Milton.

The Nutshell

Judith is a marriage counselor. She counsels marriages. Poorly. Then she screws off with an old college flame thereby ruining her own marriage. Then some moralizing happens. Then the bad people get AIDS.

Tyler Perry went out of his way to hide the microphones in this production,
capturing that elusive verisimilitude.

The Lowdown

This is the first Tyler Perry production I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. Did you know these things were stage plays? I had no idea. I saw all kinds of “The Tyler Perry Collection” DVDs on the shelves around town, but they never appealed to me, so I didn’t give them a second glance. And, until now, I’ve managed to dodge the bullet here at CHUD by never had one of these sent my way for review. Here I am, though. Learning something new every day.

I don’t bring up the nature of this beast just to underscore how ignorant I am; I actually think it’s relevant to note that this is not a film production. This story was meant for the stage. The film version you get is orchestrated across several cameras, but it’s an essentially static thing. Meaning that this DVD is meant to boost the audience, make a little more money. Nothing else really factors into its reason for existing. It’s logistically interesting because of this, for one simple reason: This is not mass market entertainment. Tyler Perry produces niche entertainment, intended for an audience that likes a certain type of comedic interaction, with a certain amount of religious reference, and a certain depth of drama.

(Derivative, copious, and shallow, respectively, in my opinion. Broad, appropriate, and familiar, to be kinder.)

Here, Perry secreted a tiny mic inside the mole on Tamar’s nose.

I’m not keen on how the characters are sketched in The Marriage Counselor, which makes me suspect I’m not part of Mr. Perry’s focused audience group. Very little in the way of nuance appears in the leads, and, in fact, when Judith — our “hero” — manages to create some believable interpersonal conflict, she is removed from the story almost entirely. The worst caricature is that of the single white girl who acts as Judith’s assistant. Reverse racism?

Well, no, because there’s no such thing, and everyone should shut up about it. But it does show that The Marriage Counselor is happy to slot characters into the roles of traditional comedy — the fool, the foil, the faithful — just like Shakespeare ripped off all those hundreds of years ago.

The woman on the right is actually an A-cup. The rest of that space?
You guessed it: sound equipment.

That’s not something I can hold directly against the man or the production. Perry has tradition in his veins, it seems. From the structure of the play (broadly speaking) to the attitudes of those the audience is meant to root for, Perry pulls inspiration from the folksy and the well-established almost entirely. And you know what? The theater audience, clearly audible on the soundtrack, is right along with him, guffawing and shouting “Amen!” He has an audience, plainly, and I’m going to go ahead and assume producing these DVDs is a viable financial strategy for him because of that audience.

I do want to highlight, though, two reasons why I don’t think I’ll ever be part of his audience.

1. I don’t appreciate moralizing that stems from bigotry, e.g. “Whores get AIDS.”

I’m not even joking when I say that the dramatic turn in _The Marriage Counselor_ hinges on a lady being afflicted with terrible uncertainty after realizing her infidelity may have gotten her infected with HIV. I can’t get behind that kind of low-level thinking, and, as a message meant to stick with the audience, it’s about as effective for me as abstinence-only education was.

A rare silent scene, by necessity.

2. I kind of dig feminism.

Don’t get fooled just because the protagonist is a woman. Perry’s tale here is about as far away from portraying gender equality as a spanking fetish clip. The women are all subservient to the whims of the men around them. Even Judith’s mother, the “strong” woman is obedient to a fault to her man Jesus. The couples seeking counseling solve their problems not through communication but through the woman somehow bowing to their husbands’ desires, or admitting that, in the end, they had wanted the same things as their husbands all along. Ain’t that sweet?

I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse Tyler Perry of outright ugly misogyny or immorality, but there’s a discomforting texture to The Marriage Counselor that occasionally feels like one or the other. More than likely it’s another symptom of Perry’s instinctive pursuit of audience satisfaction. In that case, I’m content to remain unsatisfied.

Nope! Wrong!

The Package

You get some interviews with the cast about their roles in the play and how much they’re enjoying being in the play and how neat-o Tyler Perry is. Consensus: Pretty neat-o.

4 out of 10