Film reviews and more since 2009

A Fall from Grace (2020) review

Dir. Tyler Perry

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

Tyler Perry’s A Fall from Grace is evidently what happens if you sucked almost all the fun out of his film Acrimony and turned the shell of it into a lame-duck, agonizingly slow legal drama crossed with low-budget horror. It’s all seemingly straight-forward, with a plot that could be summed up in a few sentences, but the narrative chances it takes may surprise even the most loyal Perry followers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having watched nearly all of Perry’s catalog, I concede the man remains interesting on the sole merit that, be it a drama or another one of his “Madea” features, I never quite know what to expect from any given project. That’s perhaps part of the reason that, whenever a new Perry project emerges, as opposed to crossing my fingers for a standout feature, I do my best to sit back and enjoy the ride.

It is tough, however, to sit back and enjoy a film like A Fall from Grace when it doesn’t appear to embrace its pulpy tendencies. Going back to Acrimony — one of Perry’s strongest features and his first R-rated one, mind you — there was a story that had all the salacious elements you’d expect with the benefit of Taraji P. Henson, a moody aesthetic, and consuming storyline. Released to Netflix, with one of the benefits being you don’t have to put on pants nor shell out extra dollars to watch it, A Fall from Grace is small-screen entertainment that feels small and rushed; not the kind of descriptors you want when the plot, by its very nature, is so outlandish it should be a rollicking good time.

The film begins with a literal fall: we watch a frail, elderly woman plunge to her death from the rooftop of a home in the company of police and a helicopter. One of the officers is Jordan (Matthew Law), who witnesses the whole thing, and is married to Jasmine (Bresha Webb), a young, inexperienced public defender who is assigned to a perplexing case. The subject is Grace (Crystal Fox), who has been charged with murdering her husband. Despite Grace’s confession and her boss (Perry) urging her to follow through with an agreeable plea deal, Jasmine can’t bring herself to believe a sweet, old woman — known for baking cookies for the neighborhood children and working at a local bank for most of her life — could commit such a heinous crime.

Perry’s film is comprised of a series of flashbacks between Jasmine speaking with Grace in jail and Grace’s whirlwind of a relationship with Shannon (Mehcad Brooks), her hunky husband whom she murdered in cold-blood. The two met when Grace attended an art gallery showcase of Shannon’s work, after much insistence from her close friend, Sarah (Phylicia Rashad). Shannon’s caring, gentleman ways quickly won Grace over, and it all led up to a marriage proposal in a woodsy area lit by the presence of countless CGI fireflies. But it all turned to hell, and in time, more flashbacks ensue to tell us why.

A Fall from Grace is needlessly long at two hours, and much of that is due to the way Perry can drag out some of these sequences. The sequence featuring Grace setting the scene of how she met Shannon and the feelings that quickly emerged is unbearably lengthy. She expounds endlessly: he loved me, he made me feel good, I felt so alive, we were soulmates, he bought me flowers, we had great sex, he loved me so much, and so on, for about ten minutes of cutesy romance and nauseating pathos. It’s long enough that it partly diminishes the inherently (and frankly enjoyably) schlocky nature of the material, so when things do start going south, we’ve already checked out or gotten so accustomed to the film’s groggy pace that it’s simply a breather to see some kind of conflict.

Drenched in a cool, saturated black and teal color palette, Perry’s film quickly bites off more than it can chew, however, opting to focus on his usual trope of a holy woman being conned into a dangerous situation against the backdrop of legal drama filled with courtroom theatrics and a third act that quickly descends into a horror thriller. It’s too much weight for the story to bear, and Perry doesn’t have the grace when it comes to pacing and buildup to execute it very well. There’s not much in the way of social commentary, even though the final minutes are rife with themes dealing with the abuse of the elderly and how desperate, lonely people can be so blind to love they miss the forest for the trees.

The film’s savior lies in many of the performances, particularly Crystal Fox, in her first leading role, who gives a passionate performance, much of it through tears and a disheveled appearance. She brings added warmth to a role one would bill as thankless, given the ringer through which Fox’s Grace is put over the course of two hours, and she’s aided by another veteran presence in Phylicia Rashad. Furthermore, Cecily Tyson, in a role that amounts to little more than a cameo, makes the most of her screentime by bringing a nervous energy during the climax.

As underwhelming as much of A Fall from Grace is, if you can make it through an hour of exposition, the second half is vastly more entertaining, at least as far as pulp fiction is concerned. The hybrid of various genres ultimately doesn’t click, but it provides surface-level excitement that, oddly enough, might’ve benefited from the company that an engaged theater audience could bring. Reportedly shot in the span of five days, and judging by some of the pacing, written in an equivalent period of time, A Fall from Grace suggests the scattershot Perry (who is currently juggling five TV projects, with two more set to debut on BET+) has so much on his plate that perhaps expecting films that are more refined is too great of an ask at this juncture.

NOTE: A Fall from Grace is streaming on Netflix.

Starring: Crystal Fox, Bresha Webb, Phylicia Rashad, Mehcad Brooks, Matthew Law, Cecily Tyson, and Tyler Perry. Directed by: Tyler Perry.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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