Monday, October 15, 2007

"Why Did I Get Married?" -- * * 1/2

I most relish going to school in Baltimore whenever a new Tyler Perry movie comes out. Granted, I think the man is evil, condescending and I refuse to contribute to his box office receipts (I buy tickets for Clooney movies instead and sneak into Perry's), but there's nothing like the audience experience. Never in a movie theater will you hear more applause, cheers, 'mmhmm's and 'that's right's than when a new Perry comes to your closest "urban" neighborhood theater. The shameless profiteer and egomaniac (his name is listed in the credits 4 times before the title even comes up) may be the black community's answer to Paul Haggis by thinking he needs to have characters speaking his messages aloud, and he may harp a bit too much on the "Jesus heals all" stuff, but damned if the man doesn't know exactly what his target audience wants, and bend over backwards to give it to them.

His latest, "Why Did I Get Married?"... wait, excuse me... "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?" is probably his biggest crowd-pleaser to date, and it's also his all-around best movie to date as well. Perry doesn't reach the realm of "good" with his newest venture, but it's probably as close as he'll ever come. He still draws insanely over-the-top characters that behave like no human being, as well as insists Christianity is the answer for everything ("The ruler of all things, Jesus, make it alright!" and "The greatest treasure for any human being is to love god, yourself and others" are two of the more subtle lines here), but his determination to draw raucous scenarios, please his audiences, and throw a bevy characters and ideas at us rarely allow the proceedings to become dull. I wasn't proud of myself, but I couldn't say I hadn't been entertained.

Plot synopsis, courtesy of "A big-screen adaptation of Perry's hit stage play of the same title, "Why Did I Get Married?" is an intimate story about the difficulty of maintaining a solid love relationship in modern times. During a trip to the picturesque snowcapped mountains of Colorado, eight married college friends (Janet Jackson, Tyler Perry, Jill Scott, Malik Yoba, Tasha Smith, Michael Jai White, Sharon Leal, Richard T. Jones) have gathered for their annual seven-day reunion. But the cozy mood is shattered when the group comes face-to-face with one pair's infidelity. As secrets are revealed, each couple begins questioning the validity of their own marriage. Over the course of the weekend, husbands and wives take a hard look at their lives, wrestling with issues of commitment, betrayal and forgiveness as they seek a way forward." I don't know why it says "one pair's infidelity," since I remember at least two, but anywho. You get the gist.

Easily the cast member here who contributes the most life to the proceedings is Tasha Smith as the acid-tongued Angela, self-described as "the ass-kicking one" and by others as "the bitter one." Perry underwrites her character by not knowing quite how to define her, but Smith uses the ambiguity to her advantage. She shifts from being a nasty, trouble-making cunt to a bluntly honest truth-teller, and back again, at the drop of a hat, and her livelier moments are "Married's" most reaction-inducing.

Scott-- who my only familiarity with was from "Dave Chappelle's Block Party"-- finds her way through all the ridiculousness and melodrama to give a genuinely good, impassioned performance as the good-hearted, fat, frumpy-sweater-wearing Sheila. As a character who gets shit on and shit on (her snake of a husband cheats on her and then leaves her, but not before insulting her weight as cruelly and perpetually as possible), and then gets prettified and finds a good, sexy man of course, Scott is frequently heartbreaking and shows chops that indicate she has what it takes to be a legitimate actress.

The same can't really be said for the film's other leading actress with a musical background, Janet Jackson. Now equipped with a creepy plasticized face (her nose especially) that makes her look eerily like her brother, Jackson's acting skills haven't much improved since her "Klumps" days. Throughout all her shenanigans, she has a frozen vacant look on her face, delivering lines as if she's reading them off a cuecard. An exposition-filled scene where she's asked to deliver a crying monologue about her dead son is simply embarrassing.

Okay, I recognize Perry's movies are solely made for and intended for African-American audiences (I was literally the sole white face in a sold out crowd on opening day), and I think that's great. There are enough movies put out there with nary a black person in it that there should be some compensation and balance. But, targeting black people or not, it's nearly inexcusable the level of prejudice and intolerance Perry displays here, especially for a man who disingenuously presents himself as being a proponent of love and forgiveness and acceptance. I'll ignore, for the moment, his depiction of a homosexual couple as lisping, pink shawl-wearing racists toting a chihuaua (named 'Fifi,' no less), since no character explicitly expresses homophobia towards them. Fine, I'll generously let that one slide.

But the depiction of white people here is extremely problematic. Literally every single white person on display here is a latent racist (a dress shop owner spouts, unprompted "We don't keep cash in the store") or exists purely to cause trouble for one of our black central figures. Look, I recognize black people have been oppressed for centuries, while whites have gotten by just fine, and to compensate, I think all of us Caucasians can withstand some mockery. That's fine, I'm not offended, I can take it-- I think we all can. The issue is, movies like this only further divide the rift between the races and only increase views of whites as "the enemy" and people to have animosity towards. So while I don't know if we can add racist to the deplorable list of words that apply to Tyler Perry, at the very least, we can say 'dangerously thoughtless.' But while I could stand on my ivory tower and completely condemn the film for its racism, at the end of the day, it doesn't completely deplete the fun and enjoyment offered up here.

Even on Perry's simplistic terms, the movie doesn't really work as an analysis of any of the marital themes attempted to be tackled. Perry always opts for the cartoonish rather than the real, and it's disappointing that his core audience allows him to spoonfeed them the same shit in movie after movie. Nonetheless, his writing has clearly stepped up here and at least attempts to say things about interpersonal relationships, trust and fidelity, not just a man in granny-drag running around with a "Love Jesus!" thrown in every 5 minutes. Though there may not be an ounce of real/recognizable humanity in here, the over-the-top melodrama and set pieces are fun in a soap opera kind of way, and never fail to rouse a reaction which, let's face it, is most of the fun.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the most thoughtful review of this movie I have read, and this is coming from someone who was looking for a completely like-minded entertaining bashfest I could find on the web of this movie. I cannot stand the way movies, which are targeted at urban audiences, always seem to insult the intelligence of their audience by, as you say "spoonfeeding" them mindless trite garbage, or are they?

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous... I might be naive but I really didn't understand why "We don't keep cash in the store" was a racist comment. I could just tell from the context that it was.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I didn't think the review was not thoughtful. Whether someone is doing good or bad, there will always be someone there to criticize you. If you have that much of a problem than you should make a movie that targets everyone or a better movie than Tyler. Why can't people just commend people when they are trying to do good. It's movies out there that target black people as bad ones...thugs, gangs,etc. For example, Crash, this movie point out perceptions of how other races see things. Yes he has a few flaws but who doesn't. We all are human and nobody complains about mindless white movies that come out that have no meaning. At least Tyler has people that relate in someway to the movie and that is what attracts many people.

8:15 PM  

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