The Well-Read Wife


Frogpond Badge
I Am A Reader, Not A Writer

Kiki Overthinks Every Thing
« August 2005 »
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31

Kiki Overthinks Every Thing
August 8, 2005
Mood:  not sure
Topic: Movie Reviews
BV Reviews: 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman'
By Armond White, AOL BlackVoices

"Everybody needs love," Martha and the Vandellas sang back in the '60s. That knowledge is the key to the successful Tyler Perry phenomenon. Writer, performer and entrepreneur Perry combines humor and soap opera, expressing the need to be loved in the new movie 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman.' His winning formula has been seen in the seven stage plays he has toured across the United States and in several direct-to-video releases. So far his productions have grossed nearly $75 million. Black music video veteran director Darren Grant now confirms it for a new medium.

Break It Down: Perry's comic gimmick is downscale but delightful.
'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' feels like the first black-movie soap opera because love stories geared to the experiences and ideas of the black community are rare on the big screen. Nothing in either the blaxploitation movement of the 1970s or the hood movie movement of the 1990s fulfilled the popular taste that Perry sets his sights on in 'Diary.' The story of how Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) pulls herself together after being thrown out of her Atlanta home by her cruel, cheating husband (Steve Harris) makes an appeal to a totally different set of audience emotions.

Previously, successful black filmmakers have concentrated on action genres aimed at black male ticket buyers. Perry realizes that there is a vast audience of black female ticket buyers who want another approach to storytelling. 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' capitalizes on romance the way 'Superfly' or 'New Jack City' capitalized on crime. Helen McCarter's story is about a black woman's personal fulfillment and self-realization, not a black man's egotistical demonstration before the world that he can control his own finances and destiny. The stage plays Perry has written, produced and performed in prove that his concept has grassroots appeal. But what makes it unusual -- and universally successful -- is that this appeal isn't limited to gender.

Part of Perry's secret is that women and men both share the same desire, as Martha and the Vandellas knew -- even if men and women rarely confess it to each other (and certainly not in public). 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' makes those feelings public cinematically. It starts out like a psycho-dramatic version of 'Waiting to Exhale': Helen narrates about her rich lawyer husband's infidelity like Eve recounting how she was thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

Grant directs the early scenes of paradise lost with a sure knack for soap opera extravagance and pity. No episode of 'Dynasty' or 'The Young and the Restless' is more shamelessly compelling. The image of Helen in a red evening dress being dragged across a marble floor and tossed between the columns of a Southern mansion is so full of drama it verges on being irresistibly campy.

Perry's show biz expertise is in knowing how to maintain that careful balance. It is just at that point -- when Helen's heart can break no further -- that the movie shifts tone. 'Diary' stops being a pity party and becomes a comedy of self-resurrection. It is no accident that this shift is accomplished by the introduction of a new character, Madea, who is Helen's grandmother and the community Big Mama. Large breasted, loudmouthed, strong willed and with a pistol packed in her purse, Madea almost emanates from Helen's subconscious. But she is also a mythic figure from the bosom of the Southern black family.

Madea is bodacious, outrageous and courageous. She is also played by a man -- Tyler Perry himself -- in an audacious act of showmanship. This black Mrs. Doubtfire is Tyler's tribute to the black matriarch as well as to the tradition of black drag performers. He brings both traditions together through the good-hearted notion of celebrating everyone's need to be loved. Helen learns how to respect herself, earn the devotion of a good man (Orlando played by Shemar Moore) as well as the proper handling of an abusive mate. Madea guarantees that these lessons are learned through humor but Perry is sincere when he backs Madea up with another matriarch figure, Helen's wise mother Myrtle played by Cicely Tyson.

In 'Diary,' Perry realizes that the emotional torments used to sell millions of black romance novels also have a restorative, comic flip side. His ingenious gimmick as a cultural impresario is to tickle that funny bone by going back to the roots of folk culture -- the front porch story, the chitlin' circuit revue, the gospel epiphany. 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' is not profound art, but it combines the great pleasures familiar from the most popular forms of black public expression.

Break It Down: Perry's comic gimmick is downscale but delightful.

Feb. 18, 2005

Find Armond White's Review by clicking here.

Posted by Kiki Shoes at 11:21 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink

View Latest Entries