January 17, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Tyler Perry
Culture Representation: Set in the fictional American city of Holloway, “A Fall From Grace” has predominantly black middle-class characters who are connected in some way to a murder mystery case.
Culture Clash: The characters have conflicts over the guilt or innocence of a woman accused of murder.
Culture Audience: “A Fall From Grace” will appeal primarily to fans of Tyler Perry and low-budget, melodramatic “women in peril” movies.
If you’re watching a Tyler Perry drama, here are three things you can expect to happen:
(1) A husband or boyfriend will cheat his wife or girlfriend.
(2) The woman will find out about the infidelity.
(3) She not only gets mad, she also gets even.
The legal mystery “A Fall From Grace” (written and directed by Perry) falls right in line with this formula, with plenty of melodramatic and implausible moments, as well as a few touches of humor. (“A Fall From Grace” is definitely for mature audiences, since there’s partial nudity, adult language and very bloody violence.) Perry’s dramas overall are much more interesting than his comedies, but there’s such a similarity to the narratives of Perry’s dramas that they’re very much like passing by a car wreck: You know what you’re probably going to see is messy and tragic, but sometimes you’re compelled to take a look anyway.
To his credit, Perry gives a lot of work to black actors and actresses, since his movies and TV shows have predominantly black casts. It’s just too bad that he can’t come up with more original scripts that don’t have the same, tired concept that the central character (who’s usually an African American woman) is stressed-out and unhappy because of a man. She’s either dealing with a lying cheater, or she’s having problems finding a good man who won’t cheat on her, because she was treated badly by a cheater in her previous relationship.
In “A Fall From Grace,” the troubled woman is Grace Waters (played by Crystal Fox), a mid-level bank employee in her 50s who’s confessed to bludgeoning to death her much-younger husband, Shannon DeLong (played by Mehcad Brooks), who was married to Grace for less than a year. The crime is shocking to people who know Grace, because she has a mild-mannered and passive personality. Grace’s 26-year-old attorney is public defender Jasmine Bryant (played by Bresha Webb), who’s reluctant to take the case because she’s eager to have her first experience going to trial. Her demanding boss Roy (played by Perry) thinks a trial isn’t necessary, since Grace has confessed to first-degree murder and wants to plead guilty.
As Roy explains to Jasmine, he put her on the case because Jasmine is an excellent negotiator of plea bargains, and he’s training her to do what public defenders usually do: make plea deals for almost all of their clients. But there’s another reason why Jasmine doesn’t want to take the case: As she privately tells her loyal and supportive husband, Jordan (played by Matthew Law), who’s a police officer for the city, she’s become disillusioned by representing so many people she thinks are guilty. Jasmine is seriously thinking about leaving her budding law career to start over in a new profession, but Jordan encourages her not to give up so easily.
Because Grace’s case is very high-profile in the local news, Jasmine is also feeling the pressure of getting the right deal for Grace. The maximum penalty for pleading guilty will be life without parole, but Jasmine is hoping that Grace (who has no previous arrest record) will get a plea bargain of 15 years with the possibility of parole. If Grace goes to trial, she risks getting the death penalty if she’s found guilty. Jasmine meets with a disheveled and dejected Grace in jail, and something about their meeting seems “off” to Jasmine—Grace’s only request for the deal is that she’s sent to a prison that’s near where her grandchildren live. Jasmine begins to wonder if Grace is really not guilty and possibly covering up for someone else.
Jasmine’s doubt about Grace’s guilt grows even more when she looks at the crime-scene photos, and sees that the blood patterns don’t match the patterns of someone who’s supposedly lost blood from a blow to the head. She shows the evidence to Roy, who orders her to make a plea deal and not bring the case to trial. Jasmine decides to investigate further anyway, knowing that she could end up getting fired for insubordination.
Jasmine finds herself meeting with one of Grace’s close friends named Sarah (played by Phylicia Rashad), who runs a boarding house for retired women. (Cicely Tyson has a cameo as one of the residents. She’s literally in the movie for less than 10 minutes.) Sarah tells Jasmine that she’s been friends with Grace for about six years.
In a flashback, viewers see Sarah and Grace talking after attending the wedding of Grace’s ex-husband, who left her for his much-younger secretary, whom he ended up marrying. Grace and her ex-husband (who have a married adult son together) had a divorce where Grace was willing to give up their house to him because she wanted to avoid any nasty legal battles. Grace has convinced herself that she’ll never fall in love again, but Sarah encourages her to get out of the house more and start dating again. Sarah suggests that Grace meet new people by going to an upcoming gallery event that will be the opening of a new photo exhibit.
While at the gallery exhibit, which features Ethiopian tribe photos taken by Shannon DeLong, a hunky man about 20 years younger than Grace strikes up a conversation with her and asks her what she thinks of the photos. Grace says that she’s very impressed with the photos. She also tells the man that she thinks Shannon is probably an African woman, because the people in the photos look like they trusted the photographer. While they’re talking and as the man openly flirts with her, the gallery owner makes a speech to introduce Shannon DeLong. And lo and behold, to Grace’s surprise (but not to anyone else watching this who could easily guess who this mystery man is), the charming man whom she was talking to is none other than Shannon DeLong.
The next day, Shannon sends Grace a rose and one of his photos. Grace is curious and a little taken aback at his attempts to romance her because she doesn’t think she’s attractive enough for a man as good-looking and young as Shannon is. At first, she plays hard to get, but she eventually agrees to go out on a date with him.
While on the date, she asks him point-blank: “Why me?” Shannon replies, “Shouldn’t the question be, ‘Why not you?'” They end up having a whirlwind, chaste romance (Grace is religious and won’t sleep with him as long as they’re not married) that leads to Shannon proposing, and then they get married.
But how well does Grace really know her new husband? He starts to show a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality that can flip on a moment’s notice. When Grace overhears him talking on the phone to someone she doesn’t know, and she asks him who he’s talking to, he sneers at her in a menacing tone: “Grace, there are two things I don’t like: (1) being checked up on and (2) being questioned.” Grace finds out the hard way how much of a mistake it was to marry Shannon.
Grace catches him in their bedroom having sex with another woman. Grace also gets fired for embezzlement, and she finds out that Shannon committed the crime by stealing her identity. (This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s in the movie’s trailer.)
When they’re alone together, Shannon openly mocks Grace because he’s sure he can get away with what he did. Things get very ugly and bloody, with Grace whacking him repeatedly with a baseball bat, like someone fighting zombies in “The Walking Dead,” and it’s all resulted in Grace facing prison time for Shannon’s murder.
But wait. This wouldn’t be a Tyler Perry movie without something ludicrous about the plot. It turns out that Shannon’s body was never found. (This detail is also revealed in the movie’s trailer.) Presumably, the district attorney felt there was enough blood evidence to suggest that Shannon is dead, but even that’s a stretch of the imagination.
In real life, a murder case, even with a confession, rarely happens without a body (or vital body parts, such as a skull or torso), in order for a medical examiner to determine the cause of death. In the rare instances when someone is charged with murder without a body being found, several years have passed after the allegedly murdered person has been declared missing. Perry is assuming that most people watching this movie won’t know all of that, because the point of having a missing body in this murder mystery is to make viewers wonder if Shannon is really dead.
But that opens up a whole other set of questions: Why did Grace confess in the first place if there was no body found? If Shannon isn’t dead, shouldn’t Grace still be in trouble for attempted murder? And who got rid of the body if he’s dead? Viewers won’t necessarily get the answers to these questions during the course of the movie, as Grace changes her mind about pleading guilty, and the case goes to trial.
The courtroom scenes are predictably over-the-top, but at least they’re more realistic than the bumbling cop scenes with Jasmine’s husband Jordan. In one scene, Jordan is handcuffing someone in an arrest on the street, and then when Jordan suddenly gets important information about Grace’s case, he drives off and leaves the suspect (still handcuffed) out on the street. Would it have been so hard to put the suspect in the back of the squad car instead of leaving him out on the street so he could run away? And in another scene that happens in the beginning of the movie, Jordan unsuccessfully tries to prevent a suicidal elderly woman from jumping off the roof of her house. Apparently, this city must be seriously lacking in police officers, since Jordan doesn’t have any other cop to back him up in this emergency scene.
The suicide scene at the beginning of the movie is explained at the end of the movie, which has a twist that’s kind of crazy. But people should know by now that Perry loves to churn out these soapy, pulpy dramas where people can soak up his brand of cheap thrills. Dive right on in, if that’s your thing.
Netflix premiered “A Fall From Grace” on January 17, 2020.