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Beyoncé, the Good Bad Movie Star

For the pop star, 2009’s ‘Obsessed’ is a rare misstep — which is why it’s so incredible

(Screen Gems/Ringer illustration)
(Screen Gems/Ringer illustration)

All week, The Ringer will be celebrating Good Bad Movies, those films that are so terrible they’re endlessly amusing and — dare we say it? — actually good. Please join us as we give the over-the-top action movies, low-budget romance thrillers, and peak ’80s cheese-fests the spotlights they deserve.

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is many things — singer, dancer, House of Deréon model, Popeyes aficionado, mother to Blue Ivy (and perhaps now also a set of Gemini twins) — but she is not, for all her talents, the world’s best actress.

The bronze in Beyoncé’s otherwise platinum résumé is commonly, if also quietly, acknowledged even by most members of the BeyHive. But even when her theatrics fail to land, Beyoncé knows how to make a film float on the wind of her voice. While her less-than-stellar acting in films like The Fighting Temptations, Dreamgirls, and Cadillac Records have all been bolstered by her musical capacity, one film in Beyoncé’s oeuvre stands in stark contrast to the other relatively passable efforts.

Obsessed, the 2009 Steve Shill–directed romantic thriller, stars Beyoncé alongside leading man Idris Elba in a Fatal Attraction–esque story. Elba’s character, Derek, is a successful asset manager who met his wife, Sharon (Beyoncé), years earlier when she came to work as a temp at his company. Now, a new temp (Ali Larter) develops an increasingly eerie infatuation with Derek as her time at the company goes on. Her advances jeopardize Derek’s career and his marriage — and both Derek and Sharon have to fight for what they’ve built.

Obsessed is, frankly, not a good film. The dialogue veers often into caricature (especially in the case of Patrick, Derek’s gay assistant); few characters are complex; and the acting is almost painful to watch at times. The film garnered a 19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, one of many critics who panned it, wrote perhaps the most vivid description of its lack of direction: “Movie? Obsessed doesn’t move at all. It lays there like undigested latkes.” Travers wasn’t wrong; the film develops at a languid pace, and every step is forecast for viewers with either musical cues, lengthy shots of key objects, or painfully obvious writing.

But eight years later, the film is almost endearing in its commitment to its own absurdity. Obsessed is a hallmark of the Good Bad Movie genre: It’s outrageous if you take it seriously, and unimaginably entertaining to watch if you don’t. It features post-Wire Idris Elba somehow unable to outwit a relatively uncomplicated antagonist. But most importantly, we get to watch Beyoncé not just succeed a little less than usual, but be actively bad. You could even make the case that Obsessed is secretly an inspirational movie disguised as a romantic thriller: If Idris Elba and Beyoncé — paragons of Good — are capable of being this Bad, doesn’t that mean maybe the rest of us are capable of achieving at least … mediocrity?

Obsessed may not — OK, will not — win Beyoncé or Elba any lifetime achievement awards, but the two are genuinely fun to watch as a couple. No shade to Jay-Z, but can you imagine what that alternate universe would look like? Obsessed’s casting director did, and we were blessed with 108 minutes of a world in which the world’s most talented Houstonian was the wife of London’s finest export since … well, ever. Just look at them! Have you ever seen a couple more eligible for the February cover of Martha Stewart Living (assuming Snoop Dogg hadn’t already filled the role of Martha’s most famous black friend)?

(Screen Gems)
(Screen Gems)

Like Nicole Kidman’s wig on Big Little Lies, Beyoncé’s follicular accessory in Obsessed is a character of its own, perhaps 2009’s greatest addition to the Pantheon of Notable Movie Wigs (sorry, Hermione). A departure from her usual honey blond, this wig was a rich auburn color. The one she wears for most of the film frames her face delicately — but almost never moves. This wig is an amusing distraction, a wet ’n’ wavy number that Beyoncé noticeably never covers with a scarf when she’s in bed. (I mean, really, how much disbelief can we possibly be expected to suspend here?) The night of a possible reconciliation dinner with Derek, Sharon changes her wig for the first time. This new wig is straight, sleek. Sharon does not have time to play games.

For a woman whose musical career has carried millions of fans through some of their most intense emotions, Beyoncé the actress frequently struggles to deliver lines with the kind of understated facial expressions or verbal nuances that convey subtle shifts. The resulting gestures all lend themselves toward the film’s overall camp: When Beyoncé’s eyebrows move in tandem with the wig, her scenes become a kind of choreography. Audiences may initially think she’s telling Derek this with her words, but if you pay proper attention to the movie, you’ll realize it’s her wig that does the talking. That’s likely not intentional, but even with no chords behind her, Beyoncé and her wig make Obsessed a music video.

(Screen Gems)
(Screen Gems)

When Beyoncé does talk in Obsessed, it’s most often in phrases that are as catchy as they are ridiculous. Everything she says to Lisa, Larter’s character, is outrageous and Twitter-ready. The entire film is “what would you do if”–worthy, like it exists less on movie screens and more in the nebulous cyber mosh pit where Black Twitter hypotheticals are born: In their first interaction, Sharon insists on calling her “Liz” because Lisa had previously told Derek that “Shannon” left him a voicemail. The stakes are low, but the dig is high-school-level petty. It’s begging for a “lemme tell y’all how …”

But the best lines come as the film reaches its climax. After Lisa comes into Sharon and Derek’s home while they’re on a date, a voicemail Sharon leaves for Lisa yields one of Beyoncé’s most iconic, hilariously delivered lines: “You came into my house? You touched my child? You think you’re crazy? I’ll show you crazy. Just try me, bitch.”

Sharon’s cursing is a rare moment of (overacted) emotion from Beyoncé, and it’s delightful to watch. For all her theatrics as a performer, Beyonce is a generally reserved speaker. For fans, watching her curse is more thrilling than anything in the film’s plot.

As giggle-worthy as some of her early lines are, Beyoncé’s performance in the film’s (admittedly anticipated) final scene still elicits a genuine cheer-at-the-movie-screen feeling. In a scene not wholly unlike the ending of Get Out, Sharon goes heeled-toe-to-barefoot-toe with Lisa after finding her lying in bed wearing Derek’s shirt. The two get some verbal jabs in before the fight begins, and Beyoncé spits out a line I imagine she had previously only reserved for competitors within the music industry: “Come here, bitch! I’ma wipe the floor with yo’ skinny ass.” And then, of course, she bangs Larter against the stairway railing to begin perhaps the most iconic interracial girl fight since Pumkin and New York’s Flavor of Love showdown. The fight has everything you could possibly need: smashed furniture, gratuitous decor shots, lots of implausible shrieking, a quick interruption from Derek via phone, and plenty of hair-pulling (never fear, Bey’s wig remains intact). Naturally, Beyoncé emerges the victor — even in impractically heeled boots.

It’s terrible, but mostly glorious. Lisa — and film-criticism concepts like “good,” “bad,” and “taste” — never stood a chance.