Magnolia Pictures // 2008 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 5th, 2009
Now it Black Men's Turn to Exhale.
Tim Alexander's Diary of a Tired Black Man is an interesting blend of dramatic material and documentary-style interview footage. It's experimental, ambitious, and wildly uneven, but a compelling viewing experience. There's some very good stuff here, some very bad stuff, and a whole lot of in-between. The title will undoubtedly remind viewers of the hit Tyler Perry movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman. In some ways, Diary of a Tired Black Man feels like a very direct response to Perry's mega-hit. It's a film about black men who are sick and tired of mad black women, and an examination of some very complicated relationship dynamics.
The film originated as a three-minute Internet short (which the movie proudly boasts has been seen by millions and millions) starring Jimmy Jean-Louis (aka "The Haitian" from Heroes). The feature film expands upon that brief short, providing many other video segments that flesh out the life story of the character. Jean-Louis plays James, a very successful and kind-hearted African-American male who falls in love with a very attractive woman named Tonya (Paula Lema). Things seem to be going well for the two at first. They get married and have a child. Then Tonya starts hanging out with her girlfriends more often, and begins to treat her husband with less and less respect. Slowly but surely, Tonya engages in increasingly horrific behavior that drives her husband crazy.
This story is presented is a series of brief segments, and each segment is followed by interviews with folks on the street. A wide variety of African-American men and women offer their opinions, and Alexander offers a few of his. The primary argument being made in the film goes something like this: "Many black women were raised without a real father around. Their mothers taught them to hate black men, and to think of black men as no-good scoundrels who need to be kept in line. Women seek out men who are like their fathers, so black women tend to seek out no-good men. When they do find a good man, they tend to treat him very badly just because he's a man. Many black men are just trying to do the right thing, but their wives and girlfriends are so verbally abusive because they've been trained by their mothers and friends to think that way. After a while, the only thing that a real man can do is walk out and attempt to save himself from that abuse."
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I'm reviewing this from an outsider's perspective. I'm not a black male, so there perhaps there are relationship dynamics here that I simply can't relate to. Even so, I am a human being, and I am a married man, and to a large degree, the subjects being discussed here are by no means limited to the African-American community. Bearing that in mind, I'll give you my honest take on the material being presented here.
I think that Diary of a Tired Black Man is a bit on the offensive side, because it offers a fairly one-sided debate. Oh sure, both men and women get plenty of time to share their point of view, but Alexander is obviously tipping to scales to a somewhat repulsive degree. His video segments portray James as nothing short of a saint, while his wife is shown as a horrifically repugnant monster. These sequences don't feel like real-life events, but rather like the severely reconstructed memories of a bitter man who has had some bad relationships. Tonya becomes such an over-the-top monster that these scenes become unintentionally amusing after a while. There's a very resentful vibe running through the film.
The interview sequences further reveal Alexander's rather bitter feelings. Any time a woman says something along the lines of, "I'm a strong black woman," or "I'm a confident black woman," Alexander responds with negative disgust. "I'll bet your man isn't happy," he'll say. Alexander and others also strongly suggest that black women need to consider being more submissive to their man. "Why do you need to give him grief about leaving his underwear on the floor? Why can't you just pick the underwear up and not say anything about it?" Talk about missing the appropriate solution. While some of these complaints may have some measure of validity, they need to be balanced with arguments from the opposing side. Alexander gives the black men he interviews a bully pulpit to rant about the horrors of black women, and then puts most of the black women he interviews on the defensive by questioning their behavior and asking them to come up with a justifiable excuse for being so difficult to deal with. The way the film is constructed, it feels rather chauvinistic.
The video and audio are both rather mediocre. The camera work (handled by Alexander, along with the music and pretty much everything else of note) is rather amateurish, but that's not terribly important. This is more or less a talking heads piece, offering few visuals that really need to be remembered. Audio is very inconsistent both in the dramatic sequences and during the interview portions. Some dialogue sounds rather distant, while other portions suffer from distortion. One musical selection is obscenely loud in contrast to everything else. Extras include an audio commentary with Alexander that gives some background on how the film came to be, a full hour of extended scenes, and an option to watch a profanity-free version of the film. That's particularly unusual for a film rated R for "pervasive language."
The problems here are considerable, but Diary of a Tired Black Man is not entirely without merit. There are some genuinely thoughtful discussions here about the responsibilities a parent has to take care of their children regardless of how much they might dislike their ex. The interview segments contain some rather insightful material from reflective individuals. Still, for every good moment the film contains, another rather nasty idea is just around the corner. Though the film admits that there are exceptions, it seems to take the view that most black women are angry bitches whose only goal in life is to make their man miserable. That's a very nasty viewpoint, one that is fueled by bitterness and resentment.
Diary of a Tired Black Man wins points for attempting to offer viewers a fresh viewing experience and tackling some serious subjects. It loses all of those points for only offering one side of an argument that demands to be heard in full.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Profanity-Free Version
* Extended Scenes