Three Corners of Deception follows Dr. Meleeka Clary’s star-crossed romance with her ex-husband through their bitter acrimonious divorce and ensuing custody battle. Clary wrote and directed the film in addition to playing herself, and she based the story on her own experiences with the Hamilton County legal system during her divorce. It’s autobiographical except when it isn’t, although the lines between what is and is not real are blurred to the audience because the film is so thoroughly written from Clary’s perspective.
It’s an amateur production through and through, with often incomprehensible sound mixing, odd cinematography and a complete lack of proofreading on its information cards. When it works on an entertainment level, it’s because of how Clary’s passion and anger shine through the filmmaking limitations and push the story forward. Even in those moments, though, it’s hard to shake the sensation that you, the audience member, are being told to bear witness to an extremely messy, ongoing divorce case.
How real is it? It ends with a disclaimer stating that the film is based on YouTube videos “Judicial Deception” and various public records, as well as “non-fictional” scenes created in the movie to support the writer’s vision; it advises that some of the events in the story are fictitious and that any similarity to any person is coincidental. The disclaimer seems to profess too much. Besides the use of “non-fictional” in a context that seems to mean fictional, most of the film feels like a very pointed story from Clary. It exists to share her side of the story. If the courts aren’t willing to grant her what she wants, goddamnit it, at least she can make a movie to plead her case. Various people who wronged her — her ex-husband, a doctor, multiple judges, a court-appointed psychologist she renamed “Dr. Liar” — are pointedly eviscerated. It just does not feel like the similarities to real people are coincidental but rather purposeful analogs.
I’m not a legal expert, though, and although I spent quite a bit of time reading up on the public records cited before the end credits, I have no real insight into Clary’s ongoing situation. That being said, I found myself wondering if this film would do her any favors in future litigation. But that’s none of my business; the question I have to answer with this review is whether or not Three Corners of Deception is a good film, and frankly, the answer is no … but …
The no-filter nature of Clary’s storytelling really feels like she’s exorcising away a decade of anger and resentment at the way the court system has repeatedly ruled against her. The movie does very little to actually depict the nature of her battles in court, but the point isn’t for Clary to relitigate via fiction. This is a primal scream at the situation she’s found herself in and a means to share her side of the story. It’s hard to look away.
There are some fun creative choices at play, too, particularly with Clary’s depiction of her ex-husband, Melvin. He is portrayed by several different actors, each representing facets of his personality: Deceptive Melvin, Cheating Melvin, Mischievous Melvin, Angry Melvin, Suave Melvin, Romantic Melvin. The origin of all her legal battles comes from the lies her ex-husband told, and giving him a diverse set of actors to depict the different men she knew during their marriage is conceptually interesting. Admittedly, it’s a bit confusing at first.
Perhaps the weakest element of Three Corners of Deception is Clary’s attempt to tie her personal story to our society’s larger, ongoing questions of social justice. The film opens with a lot of footage of protests, including what seems to be news footage from summer 2020. Her fictional self, Dr. Clary, is lecturing at a local high school about speaking up and social justice. The film itself is Clary speaking out in a sense, but there isn’t a lot of substance to the points it makes about the legal system beyond notions that her ex-husband was directly controlling and influencing the judges’ verdicts because he himself is a lawyer. Family court and associated litigation are a tense and upsetting facet of our legal system, and Clary’s experience has been awful, but it feels like the attempt at making the film about broader issues is at odds with the personal story being told, which is more powerful.
By the end of Three Corners of Deception, I was at least glad I took the time to watch it. I was skeptical, at first, given a lot of audio issues in the first act. But in the end, I felt like I got a uniquely angry and deeply personal approach to this type of film. Few people react to decades of difficulties in court by making a 139-minute semi-autobiographical drama about their plight, where much of the story consists of thinly veiled anecdotes and occasional speculations about real people. Even if the end result feels rough, there’s just a lot of heart on display here. Filmmaking is an uphill battle from start to finish, and this is kind of impressive on a basic “I can’t believe this exists” level.