Tyler Perry is a superstar. Maybe not to most of the readers of CHUD.com, but in the urban theater world (once known disparagingly as the “chitlin’ circuit”), Perry’s plays have grossed upwards of 75 million dollars in the last few years. With those kinds of numbers it’s no surprise that one of his plays has been adapted for the screen. I’m not sure if it’s surprising that the film is almost uniformly awful.
Diary of a Mad Black Woman has a most feminine trait – it can’t make up its mind. Does it want to be a tender romance? A slapstick comedy? A holy roller Jesus picture? Maybe a wronged wife gets revenge film? It jumps back and forth between all these genres without a thought for how to make the transitions work, so that you’ll go from a weepy, serious moment to a man in old lady drag brandishing a gun. It’s like spending an hour and a half channel surfing and everything sucks.
Kimberly Elise plays Helen, the “Mad Black Woman” of the title (who keeps a diary for about two minutes of screentime). Her husband Charles is a wealthy lawyer and impossibly evil. The guy is just a one-dimensional dick, so right from the very beginning of the movie, when he brings his girlfriend to the house and drags Helen out by her hair, the movie has lost you. The man has no soul at all, and Helen is so much of a victim the scenes play like he’s kicking a quadriplegic tsunami-surviving puppy – and then you start to hate the puppy too, because it’s just so fucking pathetic.
Charles is at least good enough to rent a U-Haul and driver to bring Helen wherever she wants to go – within one tank of gas distance. The driver is a man alternately called Orlando or O-Dog, and he’s so good looking that he always seems to have climbed right out of a Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, if they let black people into those, that is. At any rate, Helen ends up involved with him, and I think that if the film had just been about that I could have liked it. Elise and Shemar Moore, who you would recognize from TV’s Birds of Prey if you caught the eight minutes of that which aired, have chemistry.
But the movie is not content to stay there. It insists on making Helen move in with Medea, of indeterminate relation to her. Medea is played by Tyler Perry in a fatsuit and granny wig left over from Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Perry’s Medea makes Eddie Murphy’s work in that (“Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!”) look like Olivier. He also plays Medea’s horny brother Joe – decked out in overalls and old age makeup that looks like it’s something from the upcoming House of Wax remake. And in case this isn’t enough Tyler Perry, he also plays the lawyer Brian – out of makeup, I think, and obviously so exhausted from hamming it up in the other two roles that he doesn’t seem to have the energy to even speak.
Medea is one of the most singularly annoying characters in recent film history, and the fact that this cartoonish presence is just jammed into the story is jarring enough without us having to deal with Brian’s crackheaded wife. Or with the gangster who is giving ex-husband Charles a hard time. Then there’s Helen’s mom in a nursing home.
And then there’s Jesus. Every now and again the guy just shows up in the movie, unannounced (unfortunately Tyler Perry doesn’t play the Son of Man – he’s only in it in the figurative sense). Two people will be talking and someone will say, “But I am so afraid.” The other person will look at her and say, “Now child, you don’t have to be afraid when you have Jesus in your heart.”
The Jesus of Diary of a Mad Black Woman is the most ephemeral Jesus. He isn’t the warrior Christ who guides Bush’s Holy War in the Middle East. He’s the Dr. Phil Jesus. He’s the Jesus who helps you not take that extra cookie out of the jar, or stop smoking, or who comes along to give you a slug in the shoulder and cheer you up a little when you didn’t get that promotion.
He’s also the Jesus who wants to make sure that if you are a hot, sexy young black woman (by the way, the movie goes out of its way again and again to remind us that Kimberly Elise is a black woman) and are dating a hot, sexy young black man for months and months that you do not have sex. He is not the Jesus who can make the audience believe for a minute that these two do not get it on.
I don’t know if he’s the Jesus who makes the aforementioned mobster shoot ex-husband Charles, crippling him, but if he is, I hate him. For reasons that defy logic, Helen goes to take care of Charles, paralyzed from the neck down. At this point the movie morphs suddenly into a revenge tale, as Helen beats up Charles, almost drowns him in the tub and heaps abuse on his no-moving body. Elise is actually really good as a bitch, but this stuff is so out of left field and bizarre that you’re just confused. At any rate, Charles miraculously starts walking and loves Jesus pretty soon.
By this time I was actually hoping Medea would show up. She drops out of the movie for a while, and as awful as the character is, I was missing her while tons of other irrelevant bullshit was going on.
The movie eventually grinds to a halt, leaving you exhausted and shivering. I am sure that Diary of a Mad Black Woman will do fine business within the fanbase it already has (it’s like the gospel Serenity), but there is no crossover appeal here. A movie made up of one of the strands here might have worked, especially if the Jesus stuff wasn’t being laid on like Tammy Faye’s eyeliner. But as it stands, the movie completely fails.
The scariest thought I had, though, when coming out of this movie is that I will probably see worse this year.
3.0 out of 10