Not Easily Broken is a Tyler Perry movie without the Tyler Perry. To be fair, Perry did contribute a half-assed pull quote that is proudly displayed on the front cover of the film’s DVD case. Of the film, Perry says, ‘It’s a powerful movie.’ As a counterpoint, I say, ‘It’s insipid, inspirational gobbledygook.’
The film has all the attitude of a standard Urban Professionals in Transition movie (think Brown Sugar or The Brothers) and is made with all the over-pronounced storytelling and shove-it-down-your-throat moralizing of a cinematic church tract. The title refers to the three-way bond between a husband, wife, and God, and the film is wrought with all the stereotypical signposts of a ‘We Need Jesus’ story — the couple with ‘no time for sex,’ who ‘can’t pay the bills,’ and ‘aren’t quite ready to have kids’ discovers that their ‘marriage is on the rocks’ and must work to save it, thereby solidifying their ‘spiritual bond.’ Yuck.
Dave Johnson (Morris Chestnut) is a former baseball wunderkind who injured his leg and never quite reached the big leagues. He is married to Clarice (Taraji P. Henson), who is driven by her career as a real estate agent. Dave now owns a (very) small-time construction company and coaches an inner city little league team on the side. Of course, he also hangs with his boys, and we get the typical scenes of angst-y male locker room talk that nearly every relationship movie manages to include, complete with the fast-talking goofball with a heart of gold (Kevin Hart) and the wrong-headed divorcee who wants to hit on sexy single moms (Eddie Cibrian).
The overarching point the film makes so painstakingly clear is that even though life is hard, Dave and Clarice need to get their marriage back on track. In the film’s logistics, that means re-establishing their connection to God, which is a fine enough message for viewers who like that sort of thing, except the film’s preachiness is way over the top and its morality seems out of step with reality. T.D. Jakes, the go-to celebrity minister of the African-American community, produced Not Easily Broken, and wrote the novel on which the film is based. Jakes’ sense of decency and good is so focused on the notion of strict, rigid religion that all indications of respect for human beings — specifically women — go out the window. And in a movie designed to inspire legions of Christian moviegoers (and maybe even convert a few non-believers), it is almost impossible to communicate such a uniform set of religious ideals in cinematic form without every last line sounding like an awkward platitude (which holds true specifically in Jakes’ own brief cameo, in which it is proven that he should, indeed, stick with his day job).
Jakes’ point, it seems, would be to show how both partners need to sacrifice and be more attentive to sustain a lifelong relationship, but the film has an annoying tendency to depict each gender at a very awkward behavioral imbalance. Dave is portrayed as Patron Saint of Trying Hard, while Clarice is nasty, angry, and ever on the warpath. As if that’s not enough, Clarice’s mother (Jenifer Lewis), who briefly comes to live with the married couple, is about three times as shrewish as her daughter, going so far as to fan the flames of marital discord. In a film that proselytizes a message of, ‘love your wife and stay faithful,’ it’s helpful not to float a counter-message of, ‘boy, that’s not easy, because your wife is an unlovable bitch.’
Regardless of how each character is presented, however, Not Easily Broken provides no clear, tangible reason why this couple should stay together… other than that a minister says they should. We are meant to root for a couple who have been cold and cruel to one another for over 90 minutes and who have exhibited not a hint of love or even mild chemistry for the entire film. It’s a chore not even Job could bear.