Thursday, December 20, 2018

Movie Review: "The Preacher's Wife" (1996)

Director: Penny Marshall
Year: 1996
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

An angel comes to earth to help a preacher and his wife who have prayed for aid during the holiday season as the mounting stress of a church that is falling apart and other community issues cause this preacher to neglect what is really important in his life.

The Preacher's Wife 1996 movie still Denzel Washington Whitney Houston Penny Marshall
"Angels are hardly strangers, Henry." (Image Source)
Preachers often act as guides for their congregation, but when they are the ones who need guidance, they must ask for help from a higher power...who will send them a suave angel named Dudley to aid them. "The Preacher's Wife" is directed by Penny Marshall, who has directed such iconic films as "Big," "A League of Their Own," and "Awakenings." It is written by Natt Maulding and Alan Scott and is a modern reimagining of the film "The Bishop's Wife," which was based on the novel by Robert Nathan. In this incarnation of the material, Reverend Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance) is an inner-city preacher whose church is struggling to stay afloat and is basically falling apart. Henry is a key member of his community, which is being threatened by gentrification. A developer named Joe Hamilton (Gregory Hines) keeps buying properties in town so he can tear down the old, existing structures and build new, more luxurious dwellings and businesses. Henry is under immense stress and prays for help, which comes in the form of an angel named Dudley (Denzel Washington), who has been sent to assist the reverend and his wife Julia (Whitney Houston) with what they need. Henry is reluctant to receive it, especially when it seems Dudley has taken a fancy to Julia.
The Preacher's Wife 1996 movie still Courtney B. Vance Penny Marshall
"If I accept, what price am I paying?" (Image Source)
Remaking a beloved Christmas classic is a hard position for any filmmaker to be in, even an experienced one like Penny Marshall. It is also hard to find an actor that can match the charisma and screen presence of Cary Grant, but if anyone can do it, it's Denzel freakin' Washington. Penny Marshall and her writers do their best to try and make this version of the classic holiday tale its own new thing, and they really strived to make this story even more relatable to a mid-'90s audience. The best part about "The Preacher's Wife" is the acting, which is very good overall. Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance are great as per usual, this time playing the "warring" overly accommodating angel and a stressed out preacher. Our favorite performance comes from Jenifer Lewis as Margueritte Coleman, Julia Biggs's mother. Lewis is hilarious any time she's on screen, and she adds some much-needed levity to an otherwise serious, semi-stuffy subject matter. Of course, if anyone were to cast Whitney Houston in their movie, it should be assumed that she will be singing...and sing she does. Houston treats us to her melodious voice about once every 15 minutes, so if you're a fan, you will be in heaven. To us, despite loving her voice, it felt like her talents were worked into the script where they weren't necessarily needed 5 of the 9 or so times she sings on-screen.
The Preacher's Wife 1996 movie still Denzel Washington Whitney Houston Penny Marshall
"When God takes someone away from us, He leaves what's most important about that person with us." (Image Source)
We must say, something about "The Preacher's Wife" is lacking, especially compared to the original, which was full of the spirit of Christmas at every turn. The narrative isn't super clean, and the story feels contrived at times. The flow of the film isn't all that natural, and it feels like Whitney Houston was only halfway invested while filming it. It's much more of a romance as opposed to the tale of a lost preacher needing to find the right path. That being said, this is still a sufficiently entertaining movie, albeit 20 or so minutes too long. Though flawed, it is still worth watching, but if you're looking for a true classic, it would be better to stick with the original.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.5/10
RT Rating: 58%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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