Directed by: Michael Schultz
Starring: Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, Debbi Morgan, Michael Boatman, Clifton Powell
Even while ruminating over the idea that Woman, Thou Art Loosed would likely sell a lot more tickets if it lost that final "d" in its title, I still held some hopes for the film before seeing it. After all, it boasted a generally recognizable cast and director, an actual (albeit small) releasing company and an R rating. Compare all that to the last "morally uplifting" movie to hit town, Last Flight Out, and Woman looked pretty ambitious, especially coming as it does from an A.M.E. bishop. And with that R-rating, it even looked rather daring.
Well, the film is mildly ambitious, as it turns out, but it's about as daring as a 10-year-old made-for-Lifetime production. Woman is based on the "best-selling" (that's the claim) novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes about a much-beleaguered young black woman, Michelle Jordan (Kimberly Elise, The Manchurian Candidate), who shows up at one of Jakes' revival meetings, proceeds to produce an automatic, and then fills some hapless member of the faithful with lead. The movie then flashes forward to Michelle on death row being visited by the bishop himself, to whom she tells her story.
It's a workable start, and Jakes (who played a minister in the film of Left Behind) turns out to be a credible and sympathetic performer. In fact, he's much more likable playing himself than he is when he's actually shown preaching (though this is surely unintended). Unfortunately, the story Michelle tells -- despite a few interesting departures -- is nothing more than a collection of hard-luck cliches leading to an unsurprising revelation as to whom she plugged, and an even-less-surprising spiritual redemption for her.
All of this might have been passable (after all, this isn't the sort of film where you can't guess the outcome even before your ticket is torn) were it not for Stan Foster's screenplay. Foster was once a staff writer for a TV series called Homeboys in Outer Space and that somehow fits, though this film's central failing in terms of believability probably originates with Jakes himself.
Everything in this film is simply too sanitized to work. We're dropped into a world of pimps, "hos" and crackheads, where no one so much as says "darn," and it's just too much like being trapped in a bloated ABC After School Special cautionary tale. In its favor, Woman doesn't shy away from being perfectly blunt about such themes as child molestation, neglectful mothers, drug use and prostitution (thus earning it its R-rating). Yet it does so in such an unpersuasive manner as to be wholly unconvincing.
I'll give the movie some credit for being a bit more open-minded than the usual of its ilk in that it includes an admittedly cliched, but accepted, gay character. Still, even that is too little to seem more than a refreshing touch. The dialogue is trite and clunky, and the film's efforts at symbolism are even worse. (When Michelle builds a model house and neglects to construct a door at the exact moment that Bishop Jakes lectures her about isolation and self-imprisonment, it's more groan-inducing than effective.)
Not too much blame falls on director Michael Schultz, whose work on enjoyable '70s films like Car Wash and Cooley High makes some amends for his having directed the Bee Gee-fied Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, since it's mostly the script that sinks his current film. Schultz does what he can, but that doesn't amount to very much, nor do the generally sincere performances.
I've no doubt that this film has the best of intentions, but surely Bishop Jakes knows that good intentions are supposed to be the very paving stones on the road to hell. Woman, Thou Art Loosed is better and more professionally done than most such high-minded attempts, but that doesn't make it good.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke