Diary of a Mad Black Woman was derived from one of Tyler Perry’s hit plays of the same title. Fans of his plays on DVD have waited eagerly for this movie to come out, and his truly diehard fans won’t be disappointed. This movie is what it says it is. Unfortunately, everything this movie has to say is garbled with vulgarity that gets in the way of the positive message it attempts to impart.
Kimberly Elise was thoughtfully cast in the role of Helen, a pampered lawyer’s wife who appears to have everything on the surface. Perry paints a portrait of Helen as someone that has not had to fend for herself as an adult since she has been married to Charles, who is only too glad to take over the reins of their marriage.
Early on in the movie, viewers are treated to attractive sets shot in an enormous mansion with extravagant furnishings, well-manicured grounds and other opulent details. It’s all window dressing, not only as a faÃ?Â§ade hiding Helen’s fractured relationship to her controlling and abusive husband, but also as a smokescreen so one won’t notice how contrived the plot sometimes is.
It probably isn’t fair to compare this movie to other comedy dramas starring Black actors, since it really doesn’t fall into the same category. However, it still too easy to draw some parallels to other films that it may remind you of.
This was based on a play, and it has the feel of a play. It is not meant to be a vehicle for any one actor’s skills, rather an ensemble piece, although it doesn’t flow very smoothly, as each character seems to be screaming to be heard. There are also too many characters.
Most of the Web sites featuring this film’s production notes and crew offer cast lists without actually detailing anything about the characters that they play in this movie. The only details offered appear to be filmography lists of better movies and shows that they have starred in before. You can reach the official movie site from the link posted on Yahoo! Movies.
Tyler Perry stars in three different roles in this film, but don’t compare him to Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America,” because again, the comparison would be unfair. Madea is Helen’s grandmother. She takes her in when Charles announces that he wants a divorce and subsequently ejects her from their home.
Madea is under house arrest and stomps around the house arguing with Joe, her crusty and cantankerous husband, who is also played by Perry. Madea is a study in contrasts. She vacillates between quoting biblical lessons and spewing forth vulgar threats in equal turns. She also carries a gun in her handbag.
You hear her cocking the trigger on the firearm in question as she stares Joe down in one of their spats: “You’re awfully quiet, Joe; can I buy a vowel?” Madea trying to saw off her security anklet with a knife and a stick of butter was pretty memorable and worth a chuckle.
That was the last laugh that doesn’t come at the expense of someone else in this film.
Perry’s third character is Brian, Helen’s cousin and a very devout and talented lawyer. Madea’s character is based on Perry’s own mother and aunt in real life, but Brian seems to be an extension of Perry himself. The movie is narrated in the first person by Helen, hence the title “Diary,” but Brian’s character all but explains the entire purpose of every scene without talking to the audience a la Woody Allen. Brian’s wife is missing in action after he becomes fed up with her ongoing drug habit and inconsistent presence as a parent to their two children.
So there are two storylines here with an ironic common thread: Helen’s husband threw her out of the house to make room for his new mistress. Brian threw his wife out of the house to protect their children. And Brian then defends Helen in court during her divorce proceedings. All the while, Brian quotes the scriptures to Helen, pressing her to let go of her anger and forgive Charles, even though his own self-esteem and faith in himself has been damaged by his wife’s addiction.
The humor of this film is crass. “Racist” is not the correct term. “Self-defeating” is a better term. The movie doesn’t pit Black people against any other ethnic group, thankfully. However, there are still many slurs uttered here reminiscent of Redd Foxx on “Sanford and Son”. Helen takes out her anger on Orlando, a hapless steel mill worker that she literally collides with at Madea’s barbecue.
Shemar Moore is handsome but forgettable in this role. Helen allows her personal baggage to stand as an obstacle in the path of a functioning relationship with him. Perry crafted a male lead that just seems to parrot the things he thinks Black women want to hear from a prospective mate, and it comes across as cliched.
This movie also has a lot of mixed messages. Brian’s wife is an addict, and Madea counsels him to give her another chance, claiming that “love is an addiction.” This felt too much like enabling behavior. When Helen’s divorce is on the brink of becoming final, she cheerfully tells him he can have everything. Charles’ wealth doesn’t save him from being shot by a vengeful client that he failed to keep out of jail. (Interestingly enough, the actor that played Charles’ gangster client is Gary Sturgis, the voice of Ebon in the cartoon “Static Shock.”)
Helen’s anger and damaged self-esteem are put to the test when she flees straight from Orlando’s arms to stay at Charles’ side in the hospital. Up until this point, Helen finally seemed to have matured somewhat and appeared to have lain aside her anger and vengeful feelings, and she fell in love with a man who adores her.
Then, she seemingly chucked it all aside to move back in with the man who abused and betrayed her. Forgiving Charles was one thing; martyring herself and abandoning her newfound happiness created a baffling twist in the story.
There were some negative and uncomfortable scenes toward this point in the story where Helen takes advantage of Charles’ disability that this movie could have done without. Yes, granted, we the viewers are expected to feel Helen’s pent-up anger that she has not truly put aside, there are moments where you almost empathize with her, but there is nothing entertaining about watching someone in a wheelchair being victimized, even if the person committing the abuse was once the “abusee.”
The strengths of this movie include a slick soundtrack and some excellent wardrobes for all of its stars, it is very prettily packaged. Cicely Tyson has a brief but well-cast role as Helen’s mother, and Kimberly Elise even closely resembles Tyson as a young actress. Steve Harris was excellent as Charles. My favorite line of his was “Don’t let the suit fool you, my brother.” He has a wonderful range of personas, and is just as good at being menacing as he is at seeming vulnerable. The camera work was pretty good.
Weaknesses that bear mentioning are the language, which occasionally lends itself to potty humor and bits of profanity. The casual marijuana usage during the barbecue was unnecessary and somewhat embarrassing to watch. Casual dialogue between the characters often felt “gossipy.”
The producers of this movie also want to beat the underlying Christian message to death, they are not subtle about it; every other scene has someone reading a Bible. Again, this usually precedes the lowbrow and insulting barbs that the characters like to throw at one another.
While this movie is still very unlike most that share the same genre, and even some of the same stars, its uniqueness is not a saving grace. An older movie that more adeptly explores forgiveness and trusting one’s own faith in God in the midst of an abusive relationship is Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” This movie tries hard, but it still came across as a frustrating mess.