Not Easily Broken (Rated PG-13) is the kind of film Christians wait all year to see. It has heart, humor and raw honesty, exploring the struggles real people face in love and faith. And though churches are unlikely to buy out theaters en masse, a la The Passion of the Christ, the faith community will be pleased to see a film openly address the need for God’s presence in a marital relationship.
Morris Chestnut, perpetual urban romantic lead and star of the film, believes the movie will resonate beyond the church, despite an overt Christian message. “It should be well received,” he says. “If no one told you it was based on a T.D. Jakes novel, you probably would have no idea it was coming from such a strong faith position.”
But fans of Jakes shouldn’t worry. The bishop’s original intent has not been watered down for Hollywood, and Jakes gives the film his seal of approval with a brief cameo.
For those unfamiliar with the original novel, Not Easily Broken revolves around the slowly disintegrating marriage of Dave (Chestnut) and Clarice Johnson (Taraji P. Henson). After a car accident nearly takes Clarice’s life and Dave begins to develop feelings for his wife’s physical therapist, the couple is forced to confront how deeply fractured their marriage has become. Like many couples on the brink of divorce, they must decide whether or not their marriage is worth saving.
Told from a distinctly male perspective, Not Easily Broken gives viewers a rare peek into how men feel about relationships. For example, Chestnut’s character Dave desperately wants to raise a child. His wife, on the other hand, is unwilling to sacrifice her blossoming career (income on which the family depends) to settle into a family. Blurred marital roles mixed with the divisive comments of a meddling mother-in-law (Jenifer Lewis), leave Dave feeling emasculated and unsatisfied.
But Chestnut assures us women won’t feel isolated by the male content. “The best scene in the movie is between Jenifer [Lewis] and Taraji P. Henson,” he says, “and women are going to be able to relate because either they’ve been through it or they have friends who have been through it. The issues may be male dominant but with Taraji [who currently has a stand-out performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button] being the core of the movie, they’re female and male.”
The broad accessibility of the movie is due in large part to the direction of Bill Duke (Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit), whom Chestnut brought in when he signed on as executive producer. “We would really be in trouble if it wasn’t for Bill Duke,” he sighs. “We didn’t have that much time or money. So, I wanted to work with someone who could really get the most out of what we had.”
Getting the film right was important to Chestnut. Raised Baptist and happily married for over 11 years, the actor felt a connection to the script. “When I was growing up, everybody went to church on Sundays,” he explains. “I didn’t like it as a child–you know you’d rather be watching cartoons or throwing the football around–but it was something I always had to do. I’m glad my mother made me [go to church] because it’s such a strong part of my life right now.”
Now that he’s an adult, Chestnut admits he doesn’t go to church every Sunday, but he goes more than the requisite Easter service. “Most people I know who are black grew up going to church. Times have changed to the degree that there are so many other things to do,” he says. “But the church is the foundation of African American communities.”
With its positive message and unique focus on the ever-after part of a relationship, Not Easily Broken is a welcome departure from many films in theaters. It’s also nice to see African American filmmakers stepping to the forefront and bringing additional creative perspectives to a market that currently seems cornered by Tyler Perry. Though Hollywood isn’t perfect, Chestnut believes the industry is making progress.
“Of course, I always think they could be doing better in terms of greater opportunity,” Chestnut concedes. But he sees promise. “Right now we’re in a trying time with [fallout of] the writers’ strike and pending actors’ strike; work has slowed down for actors in general. But hopefully we’re moving in the right direction.”
He adds, “Six years ago you knew of Denzel Washington and Will Smith. But since then you have Jamie Foxx winning an Academy Award, Don Cheadle nominated for an Academy Award, and Terrence Howard nominated for an Academy Award. Things have been progressing.”
Not Easily Broken opens January 9. Will you see it? Let us know what you think.