Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Sound vaguely familiar? Sure it does. The sometimes hilarious but oftentimes tiresome Diary of a Mad Black Woman--based on the hit play by writer-actor Tyler Perry--takes from a long line of movies about women who've been dumped, only to come back better, stronger, and madder than ever.
Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) thought she had the perfect life with lawyer husband Charles (Steve Harris): a big house, lots of creature comforts, and a stable--albeit staid--marriage. But Helen's world shatters when Charles tells her, on the eve of their 18th wedding anniversary, that he wants a divorce and literally kicks her out of their spacious mansion to make room for another woman. Devastated, she runs to her beloved pot-smokin', gun-totin' grandmother Madea (Tyler Perry), who lets Helen know she's a proud, beautiful black woman who nonetheless should whoop the bastard's ass. As hurt as she is, Helen really just wants to pick up the pieces and move on, if she can. She finds guidance and empowerment from her family and friends, including new friend Orlando (Shemar Moore), a drop-dead gorgeous construction worker whose sweet and sincere ways more than help Helen get through her pain. And he cooks, too. Really, there's no contest.
The main cast members aptly portray their roles, formulaic as they are. Kimberly Elise (The Manchurian Candidate), as the grievously wronged wife, has the toughest job trying to convey all the crazy, mixed-up feelings Helen has for the ex-husband while trying to jumpstart her life. Steve Harris (TV's The Practice), as the callous husband, and Shemar Moore (TV's The Young and the Restless), as the too-good-to-be-true suitor, represent the two opposites sides of the coin. Even Cicely Tyson makes an appearance as Helen's invalid mother, who seems just a little too healthy to be in a nursing home. But it's Tyler Perry who turns out to be the true mad black woman. The film comes alive when he's onscreen, either playing the outrageous Madea--complete with wig, makeup and padding--or Madea's brother Joe, a lecherous old coot. Perry even gets to play it straight as Helen's kindly cousin, Brian, who has a junkie for a wife (played by Tamara Taylor with the usual vacant, twitchy neediness). It would have been a long hour and a half without him.
Perry obviously writes from the heart, having struggled through his younger years to become a well-known playwright. And with music video director Darren R. Grant at the helm, Diary of a Mad Black Woman has all the best intentions. It's certainly a buoyant portrait of African-American life and culture that also speaks to anyone who has had to grapple with betrayal and hurt at the hands of those they love. But the stage-trained Perry somehow misses the subtleties of writing for film. Diary doesn't know what kind of genre it wants to be, jumping from raucous comedy, á la Big Momma's House, to mind-numbing drama, á la Waiting to Exhale. The characters don't have any complexities, and are drawn very black or white. It also takes an awfully long time for our heroine to figure out what direction she's going to take, when we could tell her in the first 30 minutes as to whom she should end up with. In the meantime, we must endure several melodramatic set pieces, filled with elaborate speeches about revenge, love, relationships, redemption, religion and all that, which are meant to hit us hard with their poignancy. Perry might consider keeping the highfalutin writing for the stage and think about an acting career in film.
If not for the larger-than-life multitasking by Tyler Perry, Diary of a Mad Black Woman would be just another tedious, over-the-top movie about self-discovery.