Lionsgate // 0000 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Diane Wild (Retired) // June 28th, 2005
Time heals the heart. Faith heals the rest.
The DVD cover and bouncy menu graphics of Diary of a Mad Black Woman promise a zany comedy in the style of a cross-dressing Eddie Murphy film, and while the movie delivers a tiny dose of that, mostly it's a melodrama with plot points that would make General Hospital cringe. Tack on An Officer and a Gentleman ending and some Oprah pop psychology throughout, and you've got a strange hybrid of a movie that succeeds in irritating as much as it offends and bores.
Helen (Kimberly Elise, John Q) is the beautiful trophy wife of successful lawyer Charles (Steve Harris, The Practice). But their public displays of affection hide the darker secrets of his infidelity and emotional and physical abuse of his wife. One day, he hires a moving man to pack up her things before he comes home and literally drags the clueless Helen out the door of their fabulous mansion. She gets a ride with gorgeous moving man Orlando (Shemar Moore, The Brothers) to the more modest home of her grandmother, Madea (Tyler Perry, Madea's Family Reunion, in drag) and Joe (Tyler Perry in old age makeup). Formerly estranged from her family, she learns her cousin Debrah (Tamara Taylor, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) is a drug addict whose sweet husband Brian (Tyler Perry again, looking like a real human being) is left to raise their daughter alone. Though she doesn't trust men, Helen reluctantly enters into a relationship with working-class Orlando...until she gets word that Charles has been shot by a disgruntled client. She races back to care for him while taking advantage of his helplessness to exact some cruel revenge. But then she finds God and forgiveness and the movie finally ends, at which point I thank God and work on forgiving the filmmakers.
DVD reviewers have a dubious advantage over first-run film critics -- we often know the critical and audience reaction to the movie before putting pen to paper. I say "dubious" because to me, Diary of a Mad Black Woman was utterly devoid of entertainment value, reveled in domestic brutality and gender stereotypes, and tried to do too much too badly. Yet I'm burdened with the knowledge that it was a huge success and beloved by many. So I have to confront an enormous disconnect between my experience of the film and the experience of those who put it at the top of the box office, and I don't believe it's simply the fact that a movie of my life would be called Diary of a Calm White Woman. Though it's impossible to write a lucid review about a movie I hated by speculating on what others loved, I feel the need to point out that others did love it before I say why I absolutely did not.
If I hadn't known the movie found an audience, I would have said that it couldn't possibly, since it seems to be trying to appeal to people who enjoy soap operas but wish for more Klumps-style comic relief along with their temporary paralysis, secret love children, and female catfight subplots; who don't think highly of either men or women; and who are both devoutly religious and revenge fantasists. Maybe that describes a sizable portion of the population, but I wouldn't have thought so. More likely, I am simply completely unable to understand the reason why this film appeals to anyone, because its worldview is so different from my own.
In the numerous extras that prolonged my time with this DVD, writer/actor Tyler Perry emits an obvious sincerity about what he perceives as the moral message, and the talents he feels were brought to the film. While I completely disagree, it's also impossible to take delight in detesting the film in the face of that sincerity. There are worse movies made with worse intentions. But sincerity doesn't make the warped psychology and jarring attempts at humor any more palatable, and actually adds a disturbing element of misanthropy coated in morality.
Perry says in the "Reflections on Diary" featurette that he uses his Madea character in this film to draw people in who would otherwise not want to see the dramatic story -- he calls her a "tool for me to reach the people who are unsaved." That comment was my first clue that this was meant to be an inspiring film, instead of being about awful people treating each other awfully, but oh yah, we need a happy ending to keep the studio satisfied. To me, the moral ended up being: you can treat people like crap as long as you say sorry at the end. I don't think that's what Perry had in mind.
Though Madea and Joe seem plopped in from another movie, none of the characters in Diary of a Mad Black Woman are anything more than stereotypes. Men are pigs or angels, and women are bitches or damaged, and we are treated to lines like: "I'm a woman who knows how to get and keep her man" and "You're just another bitter black woman" and "What did you do? Men always do something."
The film's melodrama takes place in an alternate universe where people need every detail spelled out for them and no one acts rationally. When Charles, after having all of Helen's possessions boxed and put in a waiting moving van, informs her that he has a mistress and children who are moving in with him now, she asks: "What are you trying to say?" Hello!?! How are we supposed to have any sympathy for a character this thick? Her mournful voiceover narration (the diary of the film's title) adds to the unnecessary explanations of what we're seeing on screen, and serves to make Helen sound even more pathetic.
Shemar Moore is an alumnus of The Young and the Restless, so his Orlando at least seems at ease with the stilted dialogue, but Kimberly Elise gives an intense performance that only accentuates the over-the-top melodrama of the script. She injects Helen's every line, even a "thank you" after Orlando compliments her new haircut, with a pissiness that gets tiring. Steve Harris doesn't fare well with a thankless role, and while Cicely Tyson (Bustin' Loose) returns to movies with a small role here, she barely makes an impression as the voice of the redemptive power of forgiveness. I can't blame the actors for this mess -- well, except for Perry, since he also wrote this mess.
He apparently has a large following, so his name is splashed all over the DVD case and the opening credits. Fortunately, there's a bonus feature called "Who's Tyler Perry" for us uninitiated folks, and a commercial for his other DVD products. Apparently, he achieved great success with a series of plays, and later DVDs, centered around the characters of Madea and Joe, including one that was the basis for Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Perry features prominently in all the bonus features, and for those who don't despise the movie, his enthusiasm for the film and his own talents will likely be welcome. Though he seems likable in his commentary, he also has a tendency to come across as someone whose ego matches his success -- no false humility for this man. Fair enough if you agree with his self-assessment, but hard to take if, like me, you don't.
I'm torn in rating the extras. On the one hand, there are a lot of them, so I should give high marks for making the effort. On the other hand, there are a lot of them, so I should deduct major points for making me watch. The saving grace is the very odd instructional dance featurette. Really -- you, too, can learn the electric slide from Madea.
Lions Gate hasn't done a particularly stunning job of transferring the film to DVD. The print often looks overexposed, and soft colors and some artifacts mar the lackluster image. Sound is available in both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks, but the movie is dialogue-driven with little to test the surrounds.
After viewing this excruciating movie, I was mad too. I don't want to look at the world through the eyes of this particular woman, or those of the man who created her. I wish I could erase it from my mind or get those hours of my life back, but since I can't, I can only try to save others from my fate. Plus, Tyler Perry owes me some new batteries: my remote control died while I was watching this movie, and I swear it's because I kept pressing the "time remaining" button in one of those painful countdowns usually reserved for the last few minutes at the office on a sunny Friday afternoon before a long vacation.
A very mad black guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Diane Wild; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 0000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Reflections on Diary
* Tyler Perry Commentary
* Making of Diary Featurette
* Who's Tyler Perry Featurette
* You Can Do It ... It's Electric
* Tyler Perry Collection trailer
* Official site