There are several tropes that cause moviegoers to grow weary. For many the idea of the psychotic mate is one that has been seen just too many times. How many times can we literally see the same movie?
Well, if you’re gonna go see just one more movie about an obsessive individual who simply can’t take no for an answer then The Perfect Guy is the film you need to see. Starring Sanaa Latham, Michael Ealy and Morris Chestnut, The Perfect Guy centers on political lobbyist Leah (Latham). She feels like her biological clock is ticking and wants to get married and have a child as soon as possible. However, her longtime boyfriend Dave (Chestnut) sites his own family history as the reason for his trepidation about jumping the broom anytime soon. So she breaks up with him in the belief that if he doesn’t want to do it when she wishes for him to do so then he probably never would. Never mind the fact that she didn’t even try to come up with a happy compromise that could work for the both of them. But that’s neither here nor there.
So she goes about her life as an independent woman in the modern age. But a chance encounter with a handsome gentleman who comes to her rescue against a drunken bar patron changes her fate. The two recall briefly chatting at a coffee shop a few months earlier and strike up a conversation that leads to an enjoyable night of drinks and camaraderie. They exchange numbers and go about their way.
The next day her new suitor, Carter Duncan (Ealy) calls her at work unexpectedly. In reality such a move would have set off all sorts of alarms for either a man or a woman as it is an unspoken rule that you don’t want to call the next day. It screams of thirst and desperation. However, it has been two months since her breakup with Dave and perhaps Leah feels it is long past time for her to get back in the proverbial saddle.
What ensues is a whirlwind, fairy tale dating sequence right out of a romantic comedy. Great chemistry, great jobs (Carter is an expert in corporate security and counter espionage), great cars, great sex; what else is there not to like? Although we knew sooner or later Duncan was going to act nuttier than a pecan pie, there are ever so subtle indicators as to his true nature very early in the film.
Aside from the next day phone call, there is a scene in which Carter meets Leah’s friends, played by Katherine Morris and Rutina Wesley, for the first time and is subjected to the obligatory girlfriend grilling. It is revealed that he was adopted. When asked whether he ever tried to find his biological parents his response is short and simmering. If you’re trying to impress a lady the last thing you want to do is be an a-hole to the first people she introduces you too. But he is so charming and seemingly forthcoming in all of their other interactions that the ladies simply don’t notice it.
For me the fact that such a beautiful and accomplished woman would be so readily swept away by a perfect stranger was a bit of a stretch. But then again, I’m not a woman who’s dying to fall in love, get married and have a child. Rather quickly in their relationship, Leah invites Duncan to meet her parents. They also are completely taken aback by this handsome, polite and articulate man their daughter has brought to them. She never brought Dave, her boyfriend of two years, to meet her parents. But Leah regrets her decision soon afterwards as when she witnesses Carter blackout on a man who was simply was so enamored by his car that he approached the vehicle to ask her if he could take a picture of the muscle car while parked at a gas station.
She sees him open an unnecessarily brutal can of whoop-ass on the unsuspecting man and quickly decides he might not be the one for her after all. She decides to break it off with him and it becomes clear immediately that he’s not trying to take no for an answer. However her friends eventually convince her go out to dinner with him and talk about the situation. Duncan tells her that he loves her and asks does she love him. When her answer is one of uncertainty. Duncan responds by slamming his first on a table. From there the craziness spiral begins.
Carter begins calling Leah’s job, cellphone and home phone without end until she is forced to change her number. However, Duncan has a particular set of skills that come in quite handy when trying to stalk someone.
Eventually, Dave realizes the error of his ways in letting such a super fine woman walk out of his life so easily and gives her a call to try and win her back and he eventually does. But Carter is waiting in the wings and this only amps his level of crazy up to a billion.
There have been many films about shacking up with psychopaths and later regretting it. Fatal Attraction, Sleeping with the Enemy, Burning Bed and hundreds of others. But The Perfect Guy updates many of those troupes that have been worn bald over the years for the new millennium with an antagonist who not only is a psychopath, but is an expert in computer hacking, surveillance and all sorts of realistic digital manipulation that will make you pass a brick.
Michael Ealy is sensational as the dark and unstable Carter Duncan. It’s easy to run around and behave like a crazy stalker, but his facial expressions, vocalizations and ability to show every bit of emotion on his face was impressive to this writer. With just a miniscule movement of an eyebrow or twitch at the corner of his mouth, Ealy’s character literally goes from sanity to insanity right before our very eyes. Exceptional.
Sanaa Latham’s character did strike me as something of an amalgamation of several characters from a Tyler Perry movie in the beginning of the film; strong, independent, irrationally moved by the need for love. But I soon realized her earlier behaviors were simply meant to establish the character’s motivations. From there we see her devolve into fear, insecurity and helplessness as Carter successfully threatens everything she holds dear. What began as a practice in improbability quickly became a realistic depiction of a woman with nothing to lose, and no hero to turn to.
Morris Chestnut was something of a cookie-cutter “handsome” Black boyfriend but when his fate was finally revealed I realized why that was so. He is adequate in The Perfect Guy, but I’m so used to seeing him as the focal point in many of the films he appears in that his secondary role may have thrown me off a bit.
Detective Hansen, played by Holt McCallany, is a believably depicted veteran cop who acts as one part gruff guidance counselor to Latham’s character throughout. But even his character shows a certain amount of growth even in his limited scenes. He goes from somewhat skeptical paper pusher to helpless law enforcement official who is befuddled at every turn by a masterful psychopath. Not overly dramatic. Simple. Realistic.
The cinematography is exceptional as well as cinematographer Peter Simonite expertly framed the emotional complexities of each character in a way that foreshadowed their next piece of dialogue or their next seen or that mirrored their mood. There are certain things that were clearly edited out, perhaps for the sake of time. For example, Detective Hansen mentions to both Leah and Duncan that he’s watching them. However, he manages to consistently slip away and do his nefarious deeds. They never explain how he manages to evade police surveillance but that isn’t enough to suspend my disbelief to the point where it became annoying.
Of course I have to give a shout out to director David M. Rosenthal for presiding over this film and not allowing it to spiral into mindless melodramatic drivel. He didn’t impede the actor’s way and apparently stayed out of his own way as well. That says a lot considering the directorial style of some.
The Perfect Guy is well-acted with great cinematography, and good direction. What seems like a predictable arc becomes unpredictable when we least expect it.
The Shadow League gives The Perfect Guy an A-.