Leah Vaughn’s life is almost perfect. She has almost everything she wants: a high-powered job as a political lobbyist in Los Angeles, a devoted boyfriend named Dave who loves her deeply, a beautiful home, and a loyal cat who’s always there for her.
But two years of dating Dave, there’s still one big gap in Leah’s otherwise almost-perfect life: she wants to be married and have a family. Dave doesn’t feel the same way.
In an emotional confrontation, Leah decides she’s had enough. “I can’t wait for you anymore,” she tells Dave. “I think you should go.” And so he does.
Dave was nearly perfect. There was just that one fatal flaw.
Now enter Carter.
The suave Internet security expert soon sweeps Leah right off her feet. And he has no problem saying all the things Dave wouldn’t. A whirlwind courtship quickly leads to meeting Leah’s parents in San Francisco.
Maybe a totally perfect happily ever can happen for Leah.
Or … maybe not.
Leah and Carter’s storybook romance takes an ominous turn on the way back to L.A. While Carter’s paying for gas at a service station, a stranger begins asking Leah about her man’s beautifully restored Dodge Charger.
Carter sees the guy leaning in the window of the car.
And Carter. Goes. Ballistic.
The savage beatdown that ensues serves as Leah’s first clue that the flawless fellow she’s fallen in love with has a seriously scary shadow side. To her credit, it’s the only evidence she needs to put the brakes on the relationship. “I don’t know who you are anymore,” she tells him bluntly.
She really doesn’t.
[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
One surprising value The Perfect Guy affirms is the importance and significance of family. Leah wants more than just a devoted boyfriend. The successful 36-year-old professional wants a family and children and permanent commitment. It’s an epiphany she has attending a friend’s 10th wedding anniversary celebration. Leah lays her feelings out for Dave, telling him, “I’ve been dating my whole life. I’m dated out. I want a husband and children while I’m still young enough to enjoy them.” Even Dave’s refusal shows us something about the way marriage does—and doesn’t—work when he says his unwillingness to commit stems from the hard-to-handle reality that everyone in his family who’s gotten married has also gotten divorced.
Carter seems eager to make the kind of commitment Dave won’t, saying all the right things to Lean and bonding quickly with her parents. With a group of Leah’s friends, Carter raises a glass to motherhood, saying, “A toast for the most important job on the planet.” Unfortunately, the fact that he’s, um, psychotic and vengeful seriously undermines his sentiments. But to Leah’s credit, she refuses to give in to the guy’s attempts to sweet-talk her back into a relationship with him she gives him his walking papers.
A police detective named Hansen does everything he legally can to protect Leah from Carter, who is stalking her with increasing levels of menace. (He may actually do a little too much—something I’ll deal with in my Conclusion.) For his part, Dave eventually drifts back into the picture, chivalrously (if forcefully) telling Carter to keep away.
One of Leah’s co-workers delivers this bit of homespun wisdom: “Life is like a coin. You can spend it on anything you want, but you can only spend it once.”
Leah’s father proffers a lengthy prayer before a meal.
Leah and Dave are either living together or sleeping over quite a lot. We see them in bed together. We see them in the shower together. (Neither scene shows nudity.) An intense sex session includes explicit movements and sounds. (Again, without nudity.)
Little does the couple know that Carter is hiding under the bed. Or that he’s rigged cameras in Leah’s house. Or that he’ll go so far as vindictively sending “sex tape” images of Leah and Dave to all her professional email contacts.
As for Leah’s romantic relationship with Carter, we see them have (mostly clothed) sex in a bathroom at a dance club embracing and “necking” passionately in public. Leah also sneaks into Carter’s room while they’re visiting her parents. (He manipulatively refuses her, jokingly calling her a “little hussy” and a “slut.”)
Several conversations, some of them crude, revolve around sex. Leah is shown in various undergarments. She frequently wears outfits with plunging necklines. Carter and Dave are both repeatedly shown shirtless.
The gas station conflagration involves Carter mercilessly hitting and kicking a man. (The station manager fires a gun into the air to make him stop.) Carter throws women down stairs twice, in one case breaking his victim’s neck and killing her. He loosens the lug nuts on someone’s car, causing a massive roll-over crash that leaves the driver battered and bloodied but not quite dead. Carter, of course, finishes the job by suffocating the guy with his gloved hand.
Carter’s explosive rage is also evident when he hits and slams things (pounding a table, kicking a garbage can, etc.). In a restaurant confrontation, Dave pins Carter to a table and threatens him. Leah later asks him what he said, and Dave quips casually, “I told him I’d rip his head off.” Det. Hansen hits Carter in the interrogation room.
The climactic scene has Leah essentially baiting Carter into coming her at her house, where she pretends to be in the shower. Instead, she’s waiting with a shotgun. The pair end up in a fierce knock-down, drag-out that involves savage hits, kicks, body blows, choke holds, knife slashes and more. (The more part being bloody and lethal shotgun blasts.)
One f-word. About 10 s-words. There are three or four uses of “h—,” and one or two each of “p—y,” “a–hole,” “b–ch” and “b–tard.” God’s name is misused at least a dozen times, twice with “d–n.” Jesus’ name gets abused twice as well.
Constant alcohol consumption includes wine, beer and martinis. Leah asks Carter if he got her father drunk at a baseball game. a distressing encounter with Carter, Leah takes several unidentified pills.
Several times Carter breaks into Leah’s house. As mentioned, he surreptitiously installs surveillance cameras inside, and he hacks into her computer. He kidnaps her cat and leaves a threatening note on her car. He also disturbingly kisses a wine glass with her lipstick on it, buries his face in her pillow and uses her toothbrush. Leah returns the favor, breaking into Carter’s place, trashing his apartment and spray-painting a crude message on the wall.
It’s implied Carter blames his homicidal rage on being abandoned by his parents and growing up in foster care.
The Perfect Guy is an utterly predictable, content-crazed PG-13 suspense story that mingles creepy and explicit sexual content with sharp moments of vicious violence. There are absolutely no surprises here—no matter what the trailers might make you think—either in the story itself or in the ways the filmmakers push the limits of the rating.
I could stop right there and you’d have everything you really need to know about this would-be thriller that’s not thrilling at all. But there’s one other unnerving element of the story that’s worth more exploration.
Leah is desperate to deal with her demented stalker, especially when he murders two people close to her. But Carter so skillfully covers his tracks that there’s little the police say they can do to nail him … or protect Leah from him.
At least officially there’s not much they can do.
Det. Hansen invites Leah to join him for an off-the-record coffee conversation, and tells her an elaborate story about someone in a similar situation who confronted an attacker with a shotgun loaded with two rounds of nonlethal ammo, followed by five of the real thing. That, he advises, is the key to killing an intruder with no fear of being accused of murder.
Essentially, then, Hansen is coaching Leah in very specific terms on how to deal permanently with Carter and not be held responsible for his death.
That’s problematic on at least two levels when you think about someone desperate enough to take some personal mental notes while watching this flawed flick.
From a moral perspective, even though Leah isn’t technically seeking vigilante justice, what happens here is tantamount to it. The police are seemingly powerless to stop Carter. So Leah lures him into coming her—and walking into a trap.
The second problem is a practical one: What if something goes wrong with the setup? And, in fact, it does.
The issue of self-defense is a complicated one, of course, practically, ethically and theologically. But there’s something deeply disturbing about listening in as a police officer essentially pushes Leah into killing someone—even someone as bad and “deserving of death” as Carter.
In the real world, Leah’s strategy might actually meet some legal standards for self-defense. But onscreen, her violent solution to her equally violent assailant comes off as thinly veiled vigilantism—vigilantism that The Perfect Guy invites us to cheer for when Mr. Not So Perfect finally finds himself on the receiving end of Leah’s third shotgun shell.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.