by David Cornelius
Oh, where, where, where to begin with the abhorrent mess that is “Diary of a Mad Black Woman?” I suppose the one moment that sums the film up best - more than the impromptu dance number, more than the idiotic subplot involving a vindictive crack dealer, more than the gospel song that goes out of its way to badmouth all other religions - is the moment in which the film’s writer and star, Tyler Perry, farts in front of Cicely Tyson.It’s as if to say, “Thank you, Ms. Tyson, for adding some much-needed class to my project. Now get the frick out of my way so I can break wind for cheap comic effect.” It’s also as if to say, “I’m so very sorry, members of the audience, but this is the best I could do. Here I have Ms. Tyson, a wonderful actress in every regard, and all I know what to do is drop in a fart joke. You see, I’m not exactly what one would call ‘talented.’”
"It is, if such a thing is possible, even worse than you've heard."
Roger Ebert describes “Mad Black Woman” by saying “there’s a good movie buried beneath the bad one.” Me, I’d say that if you dig under the bad movie, you’ll actually find another bad movie. Keep digging, and, hey! Another bad movie. And on, and on, and on, with each layer removed revealing yet another terrible one beneath it. This is (at least) twenty movies crammed into one, none of them showing the slightest sign of competency, restraint, or value.
Worse, none of them fit together. “Diary” is serious romance, soap opera melodrama, over-the-top juvenile comedy, and drag show. Oh, and just for good measure, the final scene comes out of nowhere to plagiarize the ending of “An Officer and a Gentleman,” of all films. Nothing here fits together, as if Perry is desperate to please everyone by including everything, yet he has no clue how to put these disparate pieces together.
Perry, for those who hadn’t followed the many news stories that came out after the surprise success of “Diary” in theaters, is the creator of a series of “gospel plays,” touring stage dramas designed for mostly black audiences (the “chitlin circuit,” it’s been called, although I’m not sure why they’d keep using such a potentially degrading name). They’re wildly popular among their fans, although outsiders have long complained that the plays’ comic broadness and heavy dependence on cliché and stock characterization leave them being extremely lousy. I’m of the “lousy” line of thought.
“But Dave,” some of you may be saying, “you’re just a doughy white guy. These stories aren’t meant for you!” No, they’re not, and I was ready to give some wiggle room for the cultural differences. After all, many a fine story has been told from the black experience that has been highly enjoyed by this cracker. (Indeed, throughout “Diary,” I kept wanting to reach for my copy of “Soul Food” to wash the pain away.) If done well, a story centered on one particular culture can either highlight the universalities of humanity, or it can introduce outsiders to a wholly new experience, drawing the viewer into a world unknown to him or her and therefore broadening worldviews. Both ways have the potential to bring us closer as a species. How wonderful is that?
Well, “Diary” does neither. It merely camps it up with a wretched melodrama about stupid, shallow twits, then tosses in a completely unwatchable drag show that makes “Juwanna Mann” look like high art.
The melodrama: Helen (Kimberly Elise, quite possibly the worst actress working in Hollywood today) is Atlanta’s Dumbest Housewife. Her husband, Charles (Steve Harris), is named the city’s lawyer of the year - but something’s wrong. Charles has lost his love for Helen, so much so that he kicks her out of the car and peels off. Helen, being a complete moron, thinks this is just a phase. The next day, he tells her he’s seeing another woman. Again, just a phase - Helen stops by his office later on, only to meet the tramp with whom Charles has two kids. Still, nada. It’s only when Charles actually drags Helen out of the house - and this is after he’s packed up all her stuff in a U-Haul - that she finally figures it all out.
A side note. Helen and Charles live in a mansion so garishly huge and gaudy that no human would actually inhabit in real life. Except it turns out that this mansion is owned by Perry himself, proving that not only does he have no taste in storytelling, but he’s tacky in real life, too.
Anyway. Helen finds shelter in the home of grandmother Madea (Perry, hamming it up in painfully bad drag). Madea (and if Perry’s trying to make a reference to the Greek tragedy character Medea, he’s one letter and a whole number of brain cells off) is a gun-totin’, chain-smokin’ hag, the kind of screeching lunatic you would not want in your family, let alone one you would ask for help. But Madea’s here for comic relief - check out Perry’s wacky Big Momma getup! - but she’s so unfunny that all we can do is ponder the many wrong steps it takes to dump such a character in a movie that doesn’t need it. (Worse, Perry also plays Madea’s brother, which means he really, really, really wants to Klump it up. Didn’t anyone inform him that such a routine wouldn’t work in an otherwise serious movie?)
When not spouting off offensive platitudes like the one about women always being “too busy out shopping” to know how to handle relationships, Madea’s busy straining for chuckles in scenes like the one where she chainsaws Charles’ couch in half, har har. (And no, I’m not sure where she got the chainsaw.)
But wait! We also have subplots! If there’s one thing this movie has to offer, it’s a whole mess of subplots. (Heavy on the “mess.”) Bored with the story? Wait a few minutes, and we’ll switch gears in order to follow such gems as:
- Helen’s cousin, Brian (also played by Perry, this time without the dress), has a wife who’s become a homeless druggie, only to wander in and out of the storyline at random;
- Helen meets Orlando (Shemar Moore), a hunky fella who takes her out to a five-star restaurant in his work uniform (now that’s classy)
- Helen’s mother (Tyson), whose nursing home bills have gone unpaid by the villainous Charles, shows up now and then to deliver limp, clichéd monologues that waste the power of the actress speaking them;
- A drug lord shoots Charles in the back.
This last one, an eye-roller among eye-rollers, is so incompetently handled that it wouldn’t be worth discussing in the least, if not for the fact that it sets up the biggest problem of them all. “Diary,” you see, is a Message Movie, preaching Good Christian Values. Values like forgiveness. And forgiving is exactly what Helen is finally able to do… but only after scene after scene of vile revenge, in which Helen torments the wheelchair-bound Charles. What kind of message is this? Forgive as Christ would, but first, make ’em suffer! That’ll be fun! Give ’im what for!! (In which gospel is it again that Jesus leaves the cripple to stew in his own filth for days, stopping in randomly to verbally abuse him?)
“Diary” is as ill-conceived a movie as there’s ever been. It’s powered by schizophrenic tone changes between hilariously absurd melodrama and obnoxiously unfunny comedy, with two leading performers who look like they’re out to outdo each other in terms of awfulness. This is a film that’s gone way beyond the realm of bad, past disaster. This one’s in the area of all-time grand mistakes.And yet, somehow, in that lose-your-faith-in-humanity kind of way, it made enough money and earned enough loyal fans that Lions Gate has asked Perry to return for a sequel - and this time, he’ll be directing, too. I’m not sure what’s more appalling, that Perry’s getting massive paychecks to make this garbage, or that a good chunk of the population is willing to pay good money to see more of it.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11768&reviewer=392
originally posted: 06/29/05 16:40:38