Obsessed (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual material including some suggestive dialogue, some violence and thematic content.
Length: 105 minutes
Grade: DCBC=C-
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $87 million (68 U.S., 5 Intl., 14 DVD)

Written by: David Loughery (Lakeview Terrace, Money Train, Three Musketeers, Passenger 57, Star Trek V, and one of my old favorites Dreamscape)
Directed by: Steve Shill (His first movie, previously lots of TV episodes for shows like Law and Order Criminal Intent and SVU, Dexter, Knight Rider, Kill Point, Rome, Tudors, ER, West Wing, Big Love, Sopranos, and Deadwood.)
Starring: Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, and Ali Larter, with Jerry O’Connell and Bruce McGill.

A successful and happily married black businessman must decide how to handle a sexy white temp who stalks him and threatens to undo everything he’s worked so hard for.

Entertainment Value: D
Here’s the right question to ask: Has Jerry O’Connell ever been in a movie worth watching? If you don’t know who Jerry O’Connell is, then you also have your answer. Everything about this movie screams B-grade, which on my scale is D-grade. It’s campy, predictable, and it feels more like a long TV episode rather than a feature-length movie, which made perfect sense after I saw who directed it. But here’s the part that may not have been obvious from the ads: this is Fatal Attraction for black people with the major difference that the man in this case is faithful, unlike Michael Douglas. But take me seriously when I say this is a movie intended primarily for a black audience. By that I mean that watching this movie at home with my wife and dad was entertaining for being so bad, but watching this in a theater with a largely black audience would have been genuinely fun. Back in St. Louis, we used to sometimes go to the dollar show at such a theater, and all I can tell you is that if you’re white and you’ve never watched a movie like this with a lot of black people, you just don’t know what you’re missing. The difference is a lot like the difference between white churches and black churches. You never have to tell a black congregation to make noise, and you never have to tell a white audience to settle down. Having experienced this a few times, I could just about audibly hear the audience reacting to the events, especially the end sequence. So, although I found it campy, I also know that when it comes to movies meant for a black audience, a typical black viewer will usually enjoy them more than I will.
Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language C
For a PG-13, this is actually pretty tame, although I think the subject matter definitely makes that rating right. In fact, given that this movie surely could have been made in R fashion, I must applaud the creators for opting to keep it as clean as they did. I actually think this could air on TV without any editing other than a couple of words. The language is mild for PG-13. There is no nudity, and only a handful of scenes with scantily clad women, and just two or three scenes of implied sex. The subject of infidelity and sex is pretty constant. There is one extended fight sequence where a woman falls to her death, an attempted suicide, and a young child is kidnapped briefly. Also, there’s a fair amount of drinking with some moderate intoxication.

Significant Content: B
Here’s where this movie shines. It is an extended lesson in the distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. Although Derek never cheats on his wife and even actively avoids opportunities to do so, he also fails at several key moments to disclose what’s going on to his wife and coworkers because he doesn’t think it’s necessary or because he wants to be nice. Also, because Beyoncee so overreacts when she finally finds out what’s been going on, this movie winds up being an outstanding tutorial about the ways a wife can mishandle the information she gets because she isn’t trusting enough. Overall, I found this to be a great lesson for handling opposite-sex issues in the workplace. And just for fun, did you notice that the gay guy is stupid enough to unintentionally assist psycho girl Lisa in the end?

Artistic/Thought Value: C
My wife and I have this new habit. We’ve seen so many movies that we have learned to spot whenever a movie shows us something in the beginning or along the way that is going to be a key element of some part of the plot later. Our phrase to each other is, “This will be important later,” which we say to each other as a little game to outwit the movies. In this case, we were two for two, both with the dangerous attic from the opening scene and the alarm functioning later. Such predictability does not impress me much. In contrast, one of the key scenes of this movie has Ali Larter drug and seduce Idris Elba, an event which is pretty major in the plot since he had never actually cheated on his wife. But the totally weird thing was that this scene never came back into play in any fashion after the fact for reasons I just can’t comprehend. So was this great art? No. Nevertheless, precisely because this movie presents both the image of a faithful black husband and also allows for some excellent practical moral discussions, I can’t give it less than a C for art/thought value combined. D for art, B for thought value.

Discussion Questions:
~Lots of movies these days portray sex between people who aren’t married. In this movie, the only consensual sex is between a husband and his wife. Would you grade a movie the same for sexual content regardless of whether it’s showing legitimate married behavior or illicit extra- or non-marital behavior?
~Should Derek have agreed to go to the Christmas party in the first place, knowing his history? What do you think of a company having such a Christmas party but not allowing spouses to come? Would you want your spouse going to one?
~List some of the warning signs that Derek ignored along the way about Lisa.
~See how many examples you can find of Derek simply not saying as much as he should say to someone or hiding information by omission. In each case, why do you think he fails to disclose everything? Have you ever had a problem that you just thought would go away or solve itself? Have you ever naively interpreted evidence in this way yourself?
~Think of some moments in this movie where you might have given Derek advice if given the chance. How were the problems in this film a result of him being surrounded by morally weak or foolish friends?
~What is this movie trying to tell us by having Derek always reading the Wall Street Journal?
~How plausible is it in your opinion that a girl like Lisa would be single?
~When Sharon found out about what’s been going on, do you think she overreacted? Was her reaction understandable, nevertheless? Do you think she was right for prolonging Derek’s expulsion from the house?
~What racial stereotypes or expectations does this movie want to disprove? What ones do characters in this movie seem to believe? Consider, in particular, the white female cop.
~Given that situations along these lines (although surely less extreme) happen all the time, what principle or rules do you think married people should try to follow in the workplace? Do you think that mixed gender workplaces are inherently dangerous to moral decency? Do you generally think that people in America are overworried about problems like this in the workplace or underworried about them?
~Why is it useful for a society like ours to have movies like this? Consider some of the other ones in this genre, such as Fatal Attraction, Disclosure, Basic Instinct (Why is Michael Douglas always in these movies?), Unfaithful, Match Point, and Revolutionary Road.
~Given Lisa’s clear mental derangement, what would have been the ideal way of handling her? ~What do you think of the ending of this movie? Does it satisfy you or sadden you?
~What elements of this movie indicate to you that it was intended primarily for a black audience? How might it have been done differently if it had been directed for whites instead?
~How important is it for this movie to portray a strong black husband being both successful in his career and also being enduringly faithful to his wife?
Overall Grade: C-
So, this is not great cinema, but I feel certain that it is a very useful movie nevertheless. And I expect that black viewers will enjoy it more than I did as entertainment. I wish I could have seen it at that theater back in St. Louis. That would have been a lot of fun!

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