Thursday, April 26, 2012

DVD Review - The Marriage Chronicles

I had trouble finding any information on this movie. Most movies nowadays have a dedicated web site and a press kit. This one had none of that, so the background is little reported to unknown. It was released on DVD on Valentine's Day 2012 and then premiered on BET cable channel on April 18, 2012, which is odd because it's usually the other way round when it comes to how movies are distributed.

Before seeing this movie, I reviewed What My Husband Doesn't Know, which shares a few things with The Marriage Chronicles and has quite a few connections and parallels. Both were broadcast on BET and both deal with the relationships between black men and women. The Marriage Chronicles doesn't merely focus on one. It instead juggles four. Unfortunately, this is not to the movie's betterment.

The premise provided by writer-director Paul D. Hannah is three, African-American couples go to a weekend treat where they receive marriage counseling from Dr. Masters, played by Jazsmin Lewis. She's later joined and assisted by her husband and fellow counselor, Dr. Tim, played by Mel Jackson. In 2003, Jackson toured with R&B singer Deborah Cox in David E. Talbert's play Love on Layaway. Talbert was the creator of What My Husband Doesn't Know.

Talbert famously cast R&B singers in his plays. One that Talbert utilized was Tony Grant. Grant is a R&B singer who joined the group Az Yet in 1997, but Grant had a penchant for acting, so he started appearing on stage. Grant's first play was the late David Payton's A Good Man is Hard to Find, which like Talbert's What My Husband Doesn't Know was about a wife who has an affair.

So many of these plays deal with the sexual indiscretions or incompatibilities between couples. In a lot of the plays, black couples look to family members or church leaders like pastors for advice or guidance. It's rare to see blacks seek help from professionals, especially in the field of mental health. Grant who appeared in many plays became a regular in the works of Tyler Perry like Why Did I Get Married, but he also appeared in a play that broke the mold called The Marriage Counselor.

That play has been adapted into a feature film that will be released in early 2013. This movie could have pre-empted it, but the writing and the direction by Hannah aren't even up to Perry's standards. It might be due to budget restraints, but I feel this movie was produced like a cheap TV show, very basic. It was smooth and at times sweet, but no flair, no creativity, which Perry to his credit does attempt.

Hannah does come up with some interesting characters, one or two might be a little bit narrow and he gave them issues, which had the potential for great drama. The problem is that he doesn't know what to do with them, besides sitting them down in a room. This might be an unfair criticism because most therapy is administered sitting down.

Yet, if you look at a show like HBO's In Treatment, that show had more action and vibrancy, even though it was mainly two people in a room talking. That show found ways to move the camera and really get a sense of space and really get into the minds and emotions of its characters. Hannah is mostly static and stiff, which might be his intent, but I would have liked seeing more. Hannah does manage sweet moments like a rowboat ride between one of the couples with no dialogue just music in the background. He also has a scene involving handcuffs that was particularly memorable, if not all that well staged.

Hannah wrote a song that's prominently featured in the end credits. It's called "What Happened." The songs asks in its melody for an explanation as to how the couples got to the point where they're verging to separate or divorce. Hannah has his characters give explanation and the actors do their best, but it's not enough to make us feel the breath of those relationships. We barely even feel the gasp of those relationships.

I do appreciate seeing actors like Darrin Dewitt Henson from the TV series Soul Food, Terri J. Vaughn from The Steve Harvey Show and Persia White from the TV series Girlfriends. They're all beautiful and amazing. Hannah simply doesn't do much with them.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Married Couples.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.

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