With Tyler Perry's most recent parable movie, this experience was the closest I've been to attending church in a very long time. There are lessons on the consequences of committing crimes, having a "whole lot of life to live", beauty being beyond materialism, the importance of family, selfishness, and of course, who can forget true love. Now there is nothing wrong with having faith or teaching positive values, but problems arise when the vehicle that intends to promote these principles is in question itself. In this case the morality lobbyist is the movie, which all together, just isn't that good. Judas is disguised as indecisive tone; the film tries desperately to be highbrow drama, laugh-out-loud comedy, concert musical, and even action in one particular scene. On occasion a film can miraculously weave multiple genres into an Oscar winning masterpiece, but this time around high ambition is more sin than virtue. April, played by Taraji P. Henson, eventually makes her way back to church. The rest of us however, are constantly checking our clocks during mass so we can get back to seeking answers elsewhere.
Oscar nominated actress, Taraji P. Henson, is wonderful in her attempt to make the character of April a living, breathing, piece of tragedy. She's a nightclub singer who smokes, drinks, sleeps with a married man, had a crack addict for a sister, and above all, wants to care for nobody but herself. Yet despite Taraji's terrific efforts, we never really hand our hearts over because everyone else in the story are simply one-notes. The script's cast of underdeveloped characters include "The Bad Guy", "The Good Guy", and of course, Madea the clown. The audience is never granted the opportunity to know much beyond the fact that April isn't meant to get hooked up with the ATL-tatted thug, but with the nice-guy immigrant. Hope Olaide Wilson as Jennifer dominates some difficult scenes, but even she is reduced to the tough-love older sister with attitude for most of the film. If you add to all of this some overly convenient events and an unearned romantic ending, you might get the idea that the title, I Can Do Bad All by Myself, refers to the screenwriting.
The film starts out with an aerial view of April's huge fro and as soon as she begins to belt out Rock City one thinks, "this looks promising". That promise is never really fulfilled though. Everyone sings in this movie: Taraji P. Henson, Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige, and Marvin Winans as Pastor Brian. With so many great musical performers, some of them being straight up icons, there is no doubt that these people can sing. The concert performances are good; the scenes are bad. Each musical number is a scene aimed to change April's ways, but all we witness is a free concert intermixed with some confused reaction shots and cheesy dissolves. By the time we hear the Pastor sing, it feels more like an eternity than a life changing revelation. I do like concerts and I do love movies, but in this case I would prefer them served separately.
Those familiar with Madea's ghetto fabulous ways will be happy to see her return to the silver screen just as comically towering as ever. She bickers with her husband Joe as he tells her, "to ease that ugly up" and refusing to believe in political correctness she hilariously threatens to "shank" some unruly children, who she refers to as "little OJ and Michael Vick". Whether Madea is one's cup of tea or not is not the issue; the problem is there isn't enough of her. Her limited role in the film is a cameo at best. And even more so, when she does make an appearance the comedy is completely out of place. In one scene Madea speaks of the bible's stories as she sees fit, complete with the "12 Disciplines", Noah's "Arch", Jaws, and even Siegfried and Roy. This mind-boggling reinterpretation could have been funny, only her single audience member isn't laughing along due to mourning the loss of a family member. The comedy infiltrates instead of relieves. This time around Madea should have stayed out of the spotlight completely in order to watch the Drama unfold successfully.
September 11, 2009