Till Death Do Us Part is a great movie; not a great “female” movie, not a great “black” movie, but a great movie.
I’ll admit, when I showed up to the Till Death Do Us Part premiere, I was expecting another black film a la Madea or Straight Outta Compton, I was surprised when it turned out to be so much more. It struck an impressive balance between suspense and lightheartedness, drama and fun. ‘Till Death Do Us Part is, in some ways, a psychological thriller but in other ways, like its use of comedy and its nuanced portrayal of women, manages to carve out a genre of its own.
The story centers around a woman (Annie Ilonzeh) who fakes her death to get away from her abusive husband (Stephen Bishop) and ends up trying to make a new life for herself with a new name, new man (Taye Diggs) in a new town, only to be haunted by her past. It’s a premise reminiscent of many a Hollywood formula, but the film manages to subvert the “battered woman” trope and become it’s own thing. For one, Ilonzeh’s Madison, is her own fully realized woman from the get-go, whether that’s due to the writing or Ilonzeh’s nuanced performance, it was something I found very refreshing. While it’s easy to portray battered/abused woman as one dimensional, that’s where this film shines. Madison never once seems complacent and accepting of her life nor does she seem unnaturally heroine-istic, ready to dawn her Wonder Woman cape for all womankind. Women in real life, at least the real ones I know, are neither all wisp nor Amazonian, they fall somewhere in the middle. They are human beings, after all. What results is an exciting portrayal of an imperfect woman struggling to reconcile the man she married and the life she had with the man she now shares a home with. That— watching a flawed woman attempt to make insanely tough decisions—in my humble opinion, is so much more interesting to watch.
The film only further benefits from its casting of Ilonzeh and Robinne Lee. Ilonzeh has an uncanny knack for performing in dichotomy, easily at once strong and vulnerable, still and effervescent, a trait that makes her Madison much more varied and full-bodied than many female characters in Hollywood films twice this size. Lee’s portrayal of Chelsea, Madison’s life-long best friend, is another highlight. She makes a character that could easily have been a 2-dimensional plot device into a fully formed beacon of hope and strength, striking the perfect balance between tough and comforting. But, as if I haven’t gushed enough about the film already, one of the really interesting things was the film’s portrayal of men. It is always refreshing when a film is able to show strong women who maintain agency over their lives, and the fact that this film was able to do that WITHOUT taking away from the men is a HUGE win in my book. Too often we see men portrayed as buffoons in films with strong female protagonists. It was truly refreshing to see all of the characters, regardless of gender, as wholly flawed and nuanced human beings, not a caricature among them. Taye Diggs manages to be fun, strong, comedic and serious all in one turn and Bishop somehow manages to give his villain moments of sympathy. Sure the film has its tropes and flaws, it is a film somewhat birthed through the Hollywood system, but it manages to thoroughly entertain and bring a touchy subject back into the collective American conscious. If this is the trajectory, I see a bright future for both black and female driven films, and no matter who you are, that’s a win for all of us.
‘Till Death Do Us Part is in theaters now. For more info or to get tickets go to TillDeathDoUsPart.com