Crazy Right Now
By Leo Goldsmith
Dir. Steve Shill, U.S., Screen Gems!
According to IMDb, the working title for Obsessed was Oh No She Didn't, a factoid that, though too good to be true, I’m inclined to believe. Still, for the purposes of thoroughly enjoying Obsessed—as an empowering tale of a woman holding onto her husband, as a righteous Beyoncé star vehicle, or simply as a good old-fashioned catfight—it's a good thing the producers (Earvin “Magic” Johnson among them) had the foresight to give their film a proper title. On the one hand, it's straight-faced enough to make their endeavor seem earnest and credible; and on the other, it leaves the audience something to scream out at every egregious act committed by that crazy white bitch trying to steal Beyoncé's man.
The obsessive she-devil in question is Lisa, a menacingly blonde temp at the firm of Gage-Bendix, where handsome Derek Charles (Idris Elba) is executive vice president. Judging by its clients and temps and executive vice presidents and such, this firm is obviously doing some kind of real big business, but none of this is really important. What is important is that Derek has a beautiful Brentwood home, a beautiful Benz, a beautiful hybrid SUV, a beautiful baby boy, a beautiful Beyoncé (as his wife Sharon)—and precious little room in his corner of postracial America for a crazy white bitch. At the outset of the film, before their newly purchased home has been completely Pottery Barnified, and with their realtor's "SOLD" sign still burning in the fireplace (perilously close to little Kyle's stroller), Derek and Sharon make love on the floor ("We don't need a bed—we got this fiiiiiine carpet"), smooth R&B plays, and all is right with the world.
Meanwhile, back at the office, between important client calls, board meetings, and tee-times, boys will be boys. The largely white and unscrupulous culture of Gage-Bendix offers plenty of temptations, but having already married former secretary Sharon, Derek excuses himself from the innocent little improprieties of his fellow married colleagues (played by former MacGyver sidekick and sometime Michael Mann regular Bruce McGill and Jerry O'Connell-Romijn, just back from TV Land and still a bony, bronzed shadow of Stand by Me's Vern Tessio). But Lisa is ambitious—and obsessed!—and she soon insinuates herself into Derek's life, anticipating his morning coffee preference ("black with two sugars," if you know what I mean), and weaseling vital information out of fellow secretary Patrick, the film's requisite spineless gay character (Lisa: “The good ones are always married.” Patrick: “Or straight!”). Oh, yes, they did!
Then, of course, shit gets real: Lisa molests poor Derek in the men's room during the office Christmas party, exposes herself to him in the parking garage, and roofies him at the firm's annual off-site. All of which takes up the film's first half and is sufficiently diverting, pretty much carried by the charming, strangely credible, and actually British Elba (of The Wire and the U.S. version of The Office). As Lisa, Ali Larter works well enough, having patented a certain form of robotic duplicity from her fragmented role on TV's mediocre X-Men knock-off, Heroes. But what's best about her, at least for the film's purposes, is that she's not nearly as hot—or crazy—as Beyoncé. (Like Eyes Wide Shut and pretty much no other film, Obsessed privileges the sexual desirability of the wife over all other female characters.) "I'll show you crazy!" Sharon exclaims, and begins her demonstration by throwing dishes at Derek and tossing his ass out of his own house for three months. (She also refuses to divorce him: "I don't come from a family of divorce." So there.)
Where the first half is cribbed from the Michael Douglas playbook (albeit with a less oily star than the Fatal Attraction-Disclosure leading man, and a family-friendly PG-13 rating), the second half features the slow-motion opening of the whoop-ass can, beginning with Beyoncé’s tough-love rehabilitation of her (not really) wayward husband, and culminating in the inevitable showdown. “I knew it would come to this,” hisses Sharon when finding Lisa lurking around her beautiful Brentwood home—at which point I exclaimed, “Me too!”—and then the fun (and, for many, the entire purpose of the film) starts.
While the pleasures of watching Beyoncé get Sasha Fierce on Lisa’s “skinny white ass”—what one paid admission for in the first place—are indeed palpable, this denouement is perhaps not quite as Money Pit¬-destructive as one might hope. Unlike Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Lisa is not dealt so symbolic a fate as a picket-fence impalement; nor does Sharon become a frazzled, gun-toting maniac, like Anne Archer at the end of Fatal Attraction. That would have been fine for Oh No She Didn’t, but Obsessed is clearly a far more grown-up movie, restoring the placid sanctity of upper-middle-class black urban professionalism and suburban bliss with little more collateral damage than a bloody Liz Claiborne ensemble. Beyoncé is, after all, no kid, no single lady; she’s a mom and a wife and a woman to be reckoned with. Just like her single for the film, “Smash Into You,” a duet with somebody named Jon McLaughlin, she is both adult and contemporary.