4 Stars – INSPIRING
The Christian Oxford professor C.S. Lewis once observed, “One sanctimonious hypocrite makes a hundred unbelievers.” This painful truth and the power of the Gospel to overcome it is engagingly presented in Jonathan Lynn’s “The Fighting Temptations.” The gospel music permeates the film in a way that not only honors Jesus and the classic African-American gospel choir, but also other forms of gospel music representative of Christian worship today.
The story begins in 1980 in Monte Carlo, Georgia when Darrin Hill’s (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) mother Maryann (Faith Evans) is run out of the church by a mean and hypocritical sister of the pastor named Pauline (LaTanya Richardson). Wanting to sing secular music professionally, Maryann is confronted by Pauline after church and publicly requires her to choose between the choir and her musical career. She chooses the career. But it is clear that this manipulative confrontation and forced choice is not supported by the choir director who is a wonderful, loving woman and Maryann’s Aunt Sally Walker (Ann Nesby).
Over the next several years, Darrin accompanies his mother from bar to bar as she attempts to launch her secular career. Immersed in this culture and separated from the church, Darrin becomes a person who is willing to lie and deceive to get ahead in life. Lost and alone when his mother is killed in a car accident, Darrin moves to New York City and uses his skills of manipulation in an unscrupulous advertising agency. It is then that he is summoned back to Georgia for his great-aunt’s funeral and the reading of her will.
In predictable form, to receive Aunt Sally’s money, the plot demands that Darrin direct the choir and get them into a Gospel Choir contest. This sets the stage for a humorous and life-changing creation of a choir to sing the music of Jesus’ gospel story.
The romantic element in the story, is a childhood love of Darrin’s, Lilly (Beyonce Knowles), who is an unbelievably talented singer and has also been run out of the church by Pauline due to having an out-of-wedlock child. Although at first Darrin doesn’t recognize his childhood flame, he soon is captivated by her courage and compassion as she attempts to rise above the gossip and her reputation in the small town. Teaching Darrin to “fight temptation”, Lilly inspires not only a spiritual and moral change in Darrin but also the name for their gospel choir.
The moral and spiritual messages within the film are both predictable and yet transformational. The joy that the Gospel is meant to bring to our lives through both music and love, overcomes the sanctimonious hypocrisy of some Christians as well as the emptiness and greed of a world that does not know what true love and community can be. When Darrin chooses Lilly instead of his empty life in the big city, and to direct the choir at his home church in Georgia instead of choosing greedy success as a liquor-advertising executive, the story brings home the true message that we are created to love and worship God and to love each other.
- When the pastor allows his sister to manipulate him and drive Maryann and Lilly out of the church, his weakness not only works to destroy their lives but also the lives of those who stayed in the church. Have you experienced anything similarly destructive in your church?
- “Gospel” means the “good news about Jesus.” How did two hours of gospel music impact the audience with whom you viewed this film?
- When the requirement that everyone in the choir be baptized was fulfilled seemingly against the will of several of those being baptized, how did that cheapen this sacrament?
- Pauline used the bylaws of the church to run people out of the church. In the end, the use of these laws were used to remove her from the choir. How does the use of the “law” kill and the gift of “grace” heal?