STUDIO: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
- A Soulful Ensemble
- The Power of Music
- Tyler’s Block Party
Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry’s presentation of Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of the acclaimed Tyler Perry play I Can Do Bad All By Myself, brought to you by Tyler Perry
Written and Directed by Tyler Perry. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, Hope Olaide Wilson, and Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry’s omnipresent Madea character finds a trio of children robbing her house one night and decides to try to help out the wayward youths. They normally live with their grandmother, but she’s been MIA for days, so Madea drops them off with their aunt April (Henson), a nightclub singer with a drinking problem and a relationship with a married asshole (White). April reluctantly takes the children in, and also rents out her basement to a Colombian handyman trying to start a new life in the States (Rodriguez). Together they have to work through their problems and try to find happiness. Will they succeed? Spoiler alert: yes.
I Can Do Bad All By Myself is my first proper foray into Tyler Perry-dom. I’ve seen commercials and trailers for his work, caught snippets of his shows on TBS, and read some reviews, but I’ve never actually sat down and watched one of his movies.
I’ve been curious though, primarily for two reasons: 1.) The guy is a pop cultural phenomenon, and that interests me. I want to see what the fuss is about (though I’m hardly the main target audience for his films), and 2.) As a connoisseur of bad movies, Perry’s oeuvre seems like a potential untapped goldmine. So I came into this film with major curiosity and even a tinge of excitement.
All three children, the VCR on the table, and the cabinet in the background are also played by Tyler Perry in this scene
Well, I don’t know if this is indicative of the man’s whole filmography or if I just picked the wrong starting place, but it turned out to mostly be a chore to sit through – though not without some b-movie charms. The most interesting thing about it is how it mashes together different tones and genres. Or rather, different subgenres; everything in the movie generally fits under the umbrella of comedy or melodrama, but there are different shades of both present.
From what I can tell that much IS par for the course for Perry, and I do have to give him some credit for balancing the disparate elements reasonably well. It’s still a bit jarring, but it could be a lot worse. That’s damning with faint praise though, you could extract 3 or 4 whole movies from I Can Do Bad All By Myself. There’s a musical drama about a nightclub singer trying to make it big while struggling with alcoholism and bad relationships. There’s a romantic drama about a woman torn between two lovers. There’s a comedy drama about a sassy old lady taking in three troubled orphans (which could also play as a Big Momma’s House style wacky crossdressing comedy). In fact there are two different movies in here about adults and orphans being forced together and learning to love each other. Then there’s a coming of age story about the oldest of three siblings who’s been forced to play mother and deal with an abusive father figure. And so on and so on.
Cramming all these things together means none of them can be fleshed out much, if at all, but maybe in a way that’s the secret genius of Tyler Perry; individually those are already stock plots and characters, and even if you devoted an entire film to any one of them it’s not like you could do much with it that hasn’t been done before. So if there’s no meat here to begin with, at least there’s maybe a little novelty in throwing all these things together in a blender and creating a puree of melodrama tropes and clichés. It’s quantity over quality, a buckshot blast approach to filmmaking.
“Make it quick, I’m running late for Serpico lookalike practice”
But that doesn’t change the fact that everything in the movie is a one-dimensional cliché. You know how every plot thread and character arc will resolve itself from the first frame of the movie. I’m sure the familiarity is a big part of the appeal of Perry’s movies though. You get some laughs, some tears, some spirituality, even some thrills, and nothing that challenges you. In this case you also get some fine musical performances from the likes of Mary J. Blige and Gladys Knight. In other words, it’s cinematic comfort food. And there’s certainly something to be said for this guy finding success catering to an audience that is often ignored by Hollywood.
So that addresses the first reason I was curious about the work of Tyler Perry. I can see the appeal. What about the second? As a so bad it’s good b-movie it’s a disappointment, because it’s bad in a middle of the road way. The tonal shifts are a little weird, but handled competently enough that they’re not hilariously bad. And even though there are several different movies packed into this one, they’re all variations of “damaged people come together to form a makeshift family” so it’s not altogether illogical to fuse them. The melodrama occasionally reaches silly heights, but that’s par for the course in the genre and I’ve seen sillier. There are only one or two true “WTF” moments. The performances are adequate, hokey and over the top at times but appropriate given the material and tone(s). There’s not much else to say, it’s neither good nor outrageously bad. It’s simply bland.
I think what I’ve learned here is that Tyler Perry movies maybe just aren’t for me, although I’m still a little curious about some of them (The Family That Preys seems to have potential). I almost feel like this review is pointless and his films are critic proof. I don’t think his fans care about the quality of his work in an academic sense, and nobody else is going to watch these movies. I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult, just an observation. The same thing applies to big dumb summer tentpoles – the people who love them aren’t interested in how they hold up technically or artistically. And that’s fine. But for anyone in the middle who does care about those things but is curious about what Tyler Perry has to offer, it’s safe to say you can skip I Can Do Bad All By Myself.
This is easily the funniest moment in the film
There are three featurettes about the making of the movie. One about the ensemble, one about the music, and one about the filming of the block party that closes the film. They’re basically typical short EPK type bonus features, not deep or particularly informative but probably appealing if you loved the film. Tyler Perry himself is conspicuously absent, probably because he’s too busy working on 10 other projects.