The Perfect Guy's take on Internet culture doesn't go far enough | Bleader

The Perfect Guy's take on Internet culture doesn't go far enough


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Michael Ealy in The Perfect Guy
  • Michael Ealy in The Perfect Guy

The villain of The Perfect Guy, currently the number one movie in America, is an IT expert who uses his skills to spy on the heroine and make her life a living hell. This premise touches on fears of overreaching Internet surveillance, a common anxiety in light of Edward Snowden's revelations. Yet the script, written by Tyger Williams from a story created by Williams and Alan McElroy, doesn't really explore the zeitgeist—it simply exploits it for a reasonably engaging thriller with some topical overtones. That the movie is a hit probably owes more to the star power of Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy, and Morris Chestnut than to any thematic resonance. These actors fill out their underwritten parts nicely, and director David M. Rosenthal focuses on their performances rather than build any subtext through his imagery. The themes float emptily around the film—viewers are welcome to elaborate on them in their imaginations, but the filmmakers don't provide much help as to how audiences should interpret them.

In keeping with the movie's vagueness, Lathan's character works as a lobbyist for an unspecified organization. What matters is that she's successful in her work—the actual nature of her work is left unexplained—and that she desires a secure romantic relationship that will lead to marriage and children. Soon after the film starts, she breaks up with her boyfriend of two years (Chestnut) because he's unwilling to settle down. She encounters Ealy's character at a bar a few months later. He helps her get rid of an obnoxious man who's trying to pick her up, and they end up spending the evening together. This leads to courtship, with Ealy doing everything Lathan assumes she wants from a suitor. He's great in bed, cordial with her friends and parents, and deferential to her wherever they go. What Lathan doesn't realize is that Ealy is also a possessive psychopath, and that he won't let her get out of the relationship when she decides she's had enough.

What follows is another Fatal Attraction knockoff, with Ealy invading Lathan's life after she tries to get away from him. Sometimes he breaks into her house—in a clever detail, Lathan lives in a midcentury-modernist ranch home with lots of windows that allow strangers to look in and few places inside where inhabitants can hide. Most of the time, though, he terrorizes her through the Internet, hacking into her e-mail and the Facebook page of her former boyfriend, whom she starts to see again after breaking up with Ealy. Lathan comes to feel as though she has no privacy, and she finds that the police are unable to help her take care of the problem.

To me, this feels like an exaggerated version of what people encounter every day in the Internet age. Websites lure users into giving up personal information, only to pass it along to advertisers or government agencies. And then there's the spectral presence of hackers, who can "steal" our identities through their use of computers. What makes these threats so frightening is that they're impersonal—the perpetrators can't be seen, but the effects of their work can be felt. The Perfect Guy makes this threat intimate, and it makes its motives clear. In one of their more provocative gestures, the filmmakers suggest that Lathan's desire for security actually brings this threat into existence (at first she wants someone who will care about her every move)—but they let the heroine off the hook by making Ealy such a monster. They also show that the solution to Lathan's problem lies in personal vengeance rather than the intervention of law enforcement, an implausible, albeit dramatically satisfying, conclusion that suggests individuals still have agency in responding to the matter of surveillance.

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