Warning: This post may contain spoilers, but given that this movie is in its 2nd weekend, I'm assuming most folks who plan to see it, have already.
I've only done one other Tyler Perry movie review. I usually save my comments on movies for twitter as I'm not movie reviewer or even a movie lover (the kind that sees them regularly, at least).
And, it's worth noting that generally, I don't rag on Tyler Perry. I have generally supported him since I became aware of him via his stage plays in 2004 or so. It's probably safe to say I've seen all of his movies and almost all of his stage plays. Not necessarily because I think he's some great writer/director/producer (I don't) but because... well... I find what he produces entertaining in some way, usually. Plus his movies make for good group outings if only for the conversation they spark afterwards.
And, I've been bothered by some of the things people say about Tyler and his characters. My usual response has been, "just because you don't know people like the ones he writes, doesn't mean they don't exist..." and I stand by that; but I'm getting to the place where I'm wondering if Tyler knows any other types of people...
I agree with most of the critiques I read of the movie. Most of them were the usual critiques of Tyler Perry. Lots of soap-operaish writing, poorly developed characters, requiring suspension of disbelief, etc... I loved one sentence in Mark Olsen's LA Times review of the movie: "Perry's ongoing disinterest in improving as a filmmaker is now seemingly part of his unshakable belief in himself, his insistence on doing his thing his way."
This is of course my chief issue with Tyler. He's established himself as a powerhouse in Hollywood (at least where films with majority black casts are concerned) and yet his films, over the last 8 years, have only gotten moderately better. His dialogue is less painful, he's using new settings (all his movies used to be set in Atlanta, we didn't even have an Atlanta reference in this movie, though there was one made of GA) and the actors continue to be relatively top notch (he's had Angela Basset, Cicely Tyson, Kimberly Elise and now Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who I heart). Yet I left this movie feeling... icky.
First what I liked: I liked that it was set in DC and not Atlanta. I liked the dialogue -- his non-Madea movies tend to be less elementary which is appreciated. There were no light-skinned saviors, which was appreciated. I liked the way the movie started, until the counselor (who we learn is Judith) begins telling her story about her sister. Cardinal counselor rule number one: try not to make a session about you.
And Tyler goes on to make a lot of other faux-pas with his fake counselor. She talks with her husband about wondering how it is she has a Master's degree and still isn't a marriage counselor. Probably because you need a doctorate to be a marriage counselor (at least most of the top programs are doctorate programs). She references not having a license... also cause for concern as she's the in-house therapist at her current job. Working as a non-licensed therapist? Um. No. Def illegal. As a school counselor, heavily trained in human development, my professional sensibilities were irked.
Then there were the moments that required suspension of disbelief. Like Judith's one day transformation from straight-laced good Christian girl to someone who loves wine (and later does coke). First, ain't nobody getting into alcohol THAT fast, and secondly why couldn't she have been drinking before, anyway? The ones that irked me the most involved Lance Gross. Lance Gross (Brice) is standing in front of you crying, begging you to come home and you don't go? WHAT REALITY IS THAT?! (ok, maybe that's not suspension of disbelief... MAYBE).
There was something about Judith that was unsettling from the beginning. Something about trying too hard to be a goody two shoes and then suddenly letting loose. Seems to me Tyler would want us to sympathize with Judith in some way but at every turn he makes her insufferable. She's unsure of everything even when she tries to be (see her annoying, but ongoing, conversations with Ava (Kim Kardashian) about her work attire). She plays victim instead of asking for what she wants -- which Tyler writes in such a way that is annoying (her husband forgets her birthday, she's crushed, but plays the passive aggressive thing, leaving a lone cupcake and card on the table), but then punishes her for going after what she wants in the end.
Many have documented Tyler's "issue" with educated women. His writing makes him seem like King of the "your degrees won't keep you warm at night" club. There is such little requirement of the men to take responsibility for their roles that it's sickening. Even when he TRIES to take responsibility for taking her for granted and being inattentive, Brandy's character Melanie/Karen says that even IF he did do those things as a husband, he's still not at fault because her cheating outweighs what he did, definitely. And I suppose I'm supposed to see Harley as getting his comeuppance when Brice slams him through a window (in the middle of the house?). While I was here for Brice's extreme testosterone-driven jackknife move, that wasn't enough to make up for Harley's actions.
Ever since Tyler hipped (chuckle) us to the 80/20 rule in Why Did I Get Married, he's been obsessed with making it part of all his story lines involving couples. Judith's unhappy in a marriage, and somehow as a wannabe marriage counselor fails to consider that she finds Harley attractive because he is everything her husband is not? She has to get her ass beat before she realizes maybe that's not the man for her? What is Tyler trying to say, anyway? Don't you dare, you educated woman you, want your husband to fulfill your needs. DON'T YOU DARE. You be happy someone wants to tolerate your degree-having, ambitious ass. That's what you do.
Lots of folks have talked about the possible rape scene in the movie. It certainly was uncomfortable watching Judith say "no" and "stop" and push his hands away only to have him disregard her wishes by saying "ok, now you can say you resisted..." and we wonder where rape culture comes from; how it starts. I guess I fail to understand why, using TP logic, then it wasn't Judith's fault that she cheated, but that's another post.
I was intrigued with the way Tyler treats Christianity in this movie. Judith is written as stuck up and holier than thou until she gets herself a little of the sex and a little of the coke. When Harley inquires why she doesn't include questions about sex in her compatibility survey, Judith is quick to say there's no reason to as she is a Christian and doesn't believe in premarital sex. Aside from breaking cardinal counselor rule #2 (this ain't about you, and what you believe) I was irritated with the way her views on premarital sex are demonized and used to show how suck up and unrelateable she is.
I let Tyler make it a lot of the time. I look past most of his failures as a writer/director/producer. Even now, I won't say I hated this movie, but it does rank down there at the bottom of the list with "Meet the Browns" (God I couldn't STAND that damn movie). Just one time I want him to write me a nice, well-educated woman who has some issue other than "can't find a good man because she's too damn picky/needy/ridiculous." No more icky rape scenes, Tyler. NO MORE. And the men in your movies need to start taking some dadgum responsibility ou'chea. This mess is getting ridiculous.