Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Cast:
Kimberly Elise as Helen
Steve Harris as Charles
Shemar Moore as Orlando
Tyler Perry as Brian, Madea and Joe
Tamara Taylor as Debrah
Lisa Marcos as Brenda
Tiffany Evans as Tiffany
Cicely Tyson as Myrtle

Summary:
Not even Tyler Perry in a dress can save this embarrassing mess of a story due to its horrid dialogue and ridiculous use of stereotypes.

Story:
On the eve of their twentieth wedding anniversary, Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) is thrown out of her own house by her cheating and abusive husband Charles (Steve Harris). With nowhere else to go, she moves in with her crazy grandmother Madea (screenwriter Tyler Perry) who teaches her the age-old adage “Don’t get mad, get even!” As Helen tries to recover from her messy separation, she gets involved with Orlando, a moving man too good to be true, but still, she can’t seem to get over her failed marriage.

Analysis:
Tyler Perry is currently one of the most successful African American playwrights, because he has always written what he knows, ever since he took his traumatic experiences as a child and how they affected him as an adult and turned it into a play. His third play on which this film is based is more from the viewpoint of married black women dealing with spousal abuse and infidelity. It’s a subject matter that could certainly enlighten a lot of people on relationships, but unfortunately, the message is lost in the disjointed mess that first-time director Darren R. Grant has made.

The thought of a wealthy lawyer like Helen’s husband cheating on her isn’t too unbelievable, even when she learns that Charles has two kids by another woman on the side, but it doesn’t take long for things to get silly as he proceeds to physically throw Helen out of their luxury mansion. As you wonder what Helen is going to do, another monkey wrench is thrown into the works in the form of Madea, a regular character in many of Perry’s plays. Madea is an elderly woman who carries a gun, gets in trouble with the law and likes to deal with things in a very up-front way. Oh, yeah, and she’s played by Tyler Perry himself, who isn’t very attractive in drag, looking like the uglier older sister of Martin Lawrence in Big Mama’s House. If you’re familiar with Perry’s work, the appearance of this huge woman in drag fifteen minutes into a very dramatic story might not come as a surprise, but for anyone else, it’s sure to come as a shock.

Not content enough just playing Madea, Perry also plays her revolting brother Joe, who proceeds to hit on every single woman including Helen’s mother (that’s your niece, fool!). You do have to give Perry some credit for playing all three characters in some scenes ala Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, but how he thought that breaking up the drama by having these characters crack inappropriate jokes (and farts) will have me scratching my head for years.

And yet, Perry’s moments on screen are probably the least painful to watch, as the movie goes from one bad soap opera moment to the next. The entire film is narrated with Helen’s voice over, as if she were reading back her diary entries, but this overused storytelling device is made worse because for some reason, we hear every thought in Helen’s head as if it’s happening at that moment rather than being written after the fact.

Most of the entries deal with her relationship with Orlando, a philosophizing moving man played by “Soul Train” host Shemare Moore, who always knows just the right thing to say. Their scenes together provide some of the film’s most clich├ęd and uneven writing as everything out of Moore’s mouth rings false, even when he’s trying to convince her that God will take care of everything. Despite what seems like a decent budget, Moore also wears the exact same moving man’s uniform and headband for the entire movie, which is even more ludicrous when he takes Helen to a fancy jazz club where they stand out like a sore thumb.

Kimberly Elise is a great actress-’as seen by her performance in The Manchurian Candidate–and it’s surprising that she would allow herself to play such an unlikable woman in such a disaster of a film. Sure, she deserves a bit of sympathy when her marriage falls apart, but every single thing she does after that seems wrong and even somewhat stupid.

Helen has the “perfect man” at her beck and call, but she can’t seem to get over Charles, even turning down his alimony money. After that, I can’t imagine any woman, black or otherwise, being able to sympathize or empathize with Helen’s situation, but then she turns her back on Orlando to return to Charles when he gets shot by a drug dealer-a ridiculous stereotype-filled subplot that seems more out of place than a man in drag. Out of the goodness of her heart or just plain stupidity, Helen agrees to take care of him, but not before she decides to enact a bit of revenge: getting in a few shots while he can’t fight back, starving him, and almost drowning. (I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that torturing your quadriplegic soon-to-be-ex husband is NOT the Christian thing to do.) At this point, it’s almost impossible to root for her as you watch with your jaw agape at what you’re seeing on screen, and as it gets worse with every passing minute, you can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it all is.

With that in mind, there’s little reason to say much about the pointless subplot involving Helen’s crackhead sister/cousin who is having her own family problems; the character really brings every scene down. Veteran actress Cicely Tyson gives an equally embarrassing performance as Helen’s mother, whose religious anecdotes seem even more ridiculous and patronizing than Moore’s.

The Bottom Line:
Having never seen Perry’s original stage play, it’s hard to tell where things got lost in translation, but the results are painfully bad. Perry’s need to insert inappropriate laughs into this overly dramatic mess only reduces the chances of his inspirational message ever reaching anyone.

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