The Perfect Guy (2015)

09/14/2015  By  Ashley Herald     Comments Off

The trailer for this film promises nothing original. It’s not a snooze, exactly, but it’s very much “here’s exactly what to expect; you’ve seen it before, now see it again!” The advertising fails to give the film the credit it deserves, because The Perfect Guy is a definitive statement about the kind of idealized men we present as romantic fantasies to women, and how creepy they actually are.

Leah Vaughn (Sanaa Lathan) is a successful lobbyist in her mid-30s, very much in love with her boyfriend David King (Morris Chestnut). Unfortunately, the two of them seem to have different ideas about where to take their relationship, and in frustration they end things. Not long thereafter, Carter Duncan (Michael Ealy, last seen playing a robot) arrives on the scene, sweeping Leah, her family, and her friends off their feet. Upon seeing Carter viciously assault a man for next to no reason, Leah ends things with him, but he refuses to let her go. Carter begins a campaign of harassment, moving into threats of violence when he states “If I can’t have you, no one will.” Reunited with Dave and at risk of losing everything she’s worked for, Leah is tasked with finding a way to stop Carter from ruining her life and/or murdering her.

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True Love is leaving a rose with a threatening note on a woman’s car before stalking her through the parking garage.

To get the most out of this film, it’s essential to recognize that it is written in direct contrast to recent films that have been pointed to as building up the idea of “the perfect guy” and then romanticizing their patently abusive behaviors. Christian Grey of 50 Shades fame makes an appearance when Carter uses his IT skills to track down Leah’s place of business and call her office phone number. Edward Cullen of Twilight is evoked when he stands over her bed to watch her sleep, with her blissfully unaware that he’s even in the house. Edward pops up again when Carter makes a needlessly extravagant gift to her parents in order to garner their approval, as he cannot do so on his own merits. Christian, Edward, and Carter all suffer from events in their lives that made them feel “not good enough” or somehow deficient, and are looking for a good woman to fill this chasm inside them. In the related universes of Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, and innumerable other trope-stuffed romances aimed at women, these traits and behaviors are treated as romantic, evidence of his deep and abiding love for her; in The Perfect Guy, these are red flags in the first act, preludes to his eventual obsessive behavior as he stalks her in the second act.

Importantly, Leah remains an impressive woman throughout the film, worthy of our respect and garnering our empathy at every turn. Good at her job and assertive with her needs and desires, Leah is a good and intelligent person attempting to build her life into exactly what she wants. She responds the way we hope she will, going to the police when necessary, taking as many precautions as occur to her, and making her wishes clear on no uncertain terms. She is, reasonably, afraid of Carter, but she’s not about to let him control her life with his harassment; she’s determined to reclaim her freedom and solve this problem. Even without the film’s writing and directing producing a toxic and anxiety-filled setting for her to fight her way through (including what instantly became one of my favorite homages to the shower scene from Psycho), she could carry the movie on her own, purely through the strength of her characterization and Sanaa Lathan’s performance.

In keeping with Leah’s determination, the third act takes on the tone and connotations of a rape revenge film, substituting the rape with the first two acts. This is fantastic, as the rape portion of a rape revenge film is often a deliberate attempt to titillate the audience with nudity and sexualized violence, insisting that a woman must be thoroughly disempowered and exploited before she can be empowered and fight back; The Perfect Guy tosses that out the window by having Leah put her foot down and be proactive. “I’m not going to put my parents in danger, and I’m not just going to roll over,” she informs the detective. “I can see that,” he replies, and so can we.

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Look, man, I was just trying to be that Christian Grey guy all the ladies are talking about!

Without giving away too much, director David M. Rosenthal makes excellent choices in terms of visual metaphors relating to the story, which couples neatly with screenwriter Tyger Williams beating on sexist tropes until candy comes out. The only weakness I’d point to here is that the tone, which walks the knife-edge of serious drama and over-the-top, almost cartoonish villainy from Carter, can be off-putting at times. Carter commits despicable acts of violence, but then you can’t help but laugh when he does something as petty as steal Leah’s cat. The laughs are sort of necessary to prevent the film from being a high-strung anxiety-fest, but at times the film has a bit of difficulty maintaining that balance.

Aptly-named, The Perfect Guy isn’t just another thriller about a vulnerable woman fleeing an obsessed man, it’s a deliberate indictment of what has recently been built up in media as the idea of the perfect guy. Edward Cullen and Christian Grey are not perfect men, Williams and Rosenthal insist, but rather a collection of red flags and obsessive behavior. Grey and Cullen’s status as ideal dream men is highly indicative of a world where women are taught from a young age that a man who loves you is possessive and obsessive, that these behaviors are romantic rather than abusive.The Perfect Guy is out to show you what those men are actually like, and exactly how tolerant of them you should be. Even with a few flaws in its execution, The Perfect Guy is the perfect statement on women and their relationship to romance.

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About Ashley Herald

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Ashley Herald is an avid lover of science and science fiction, sociology, cinema, and other things that start with an "s" sound. When not writing for Front Row Central they pursue graduate degrees. You can follow them on twitter: @ash_words