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Arts & Culture

Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Because of Charles, Helen says she put her mom Myrtle (Cicely Tyson still wonderful although too rarely seen on screen) in a home and abandoned the rest of her family. But now she needs family and a place to stay. So she goes to her Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry in drag for the best of his three roles), a mountain of a woman who keeps her home open to anyone in need. But be forewarned, anyone who stays has to put up with her sometimes caustic humor. After scolding Helen for investing so much of herself into Charles and her marriage, Madea welcomes her to the house and tells her she needs to pick herself up and get a job. But first, Madea takes Helen back to Charles mansion where they engage in a little therapy by tearing up the new wife-to-bes expensive wardrobe. Now Helen has to redefine herself without Charles, something she has never had to do. She cant decide if she wants to forgive Charles and get on with her life or wallow in self-pity and a growing desire for vengeance. While Madea thinks revenge sounds pretty good, Myrtle urges her daughter to forgive and move on.

Critiquing Diary of a Mad Black Woman is comparable to looking at a glass of water and trying to decide if you should describe it as half empty or half full. Depending on how you look at it, you could say its half bad or its half good. The good is Kimberly Elises acting, Tyler Perrys hilarious Aunt Madea, and a religious sensibility that preaches forgiveness while patiently waiting with open arms for characters to return to the fold. The bad is wildly uneven scripting and direction, heavy-handedness and sappy soap opera plot turns. Perry is at his best in terms of both writing and acting with Aunt Madea. Here the film is funny, sometimes sharply perceptive and entertaining. Unfortunately, the story keeps moving away from Madea and towards the maudlin escapades of Helen.

Elise is a strong, intelligent actress but shes made to play dumb too often as Helen. If we are to admire and like Helen, she cant be so dim as to not realize how shallow her husband Charles is and how empty her life has been with him. The story needs Helen to transform but it forces her to start from such a ridiculous point that its hard to feel sympathy for her. She clings to her past so firmly and for so long that you just want to slap her. Then she foolishly flees from a potentially bright future with an urban Prince Charming named Orlando (Shemar Moore). As she describes him, hes not only gorgeous but also sweet, sensitive and Christian. Rather than demanding sex on their first night together, the saintly Orlando offers what she joyously calls intimacy. Yet she still pushes him away. The problem is that when the film sets up Orlando as too perfect, it makes Helen seem dumb for not snapping him up right away.

As directed by Darren Grant, the film moves awkwardly from its Waiting to Exhale chick flick storyline to sitcom antics. Theres no attempt at a graceful blending of the two but rather the film jumps crudely from one scene to the next, calling on whatever emotion or style is needed at that particular moment. The film feels like two distinctly different films awkwardly welded together. You go literally go through the film and separate it into two different movies, and for my taste Id leave the chick flick material out. Grants direction of Elise also reveals inconsistency. Elise, who starred in another religious themed film Woman Thou Art Loosed, once again becomes a pawn at the mercy of a script and director that want to use her to make a point rather than as a character with a life of her own. Shes a good actress who manages to triumph over her erratically drawn characters.

Perry has gained fame and fortune on the urban theater circuit but Hollywood has taken its time noticing the following hes developed. Diary of a Mad Black Woman reveals the issues that he feels strongly aboutespecially faith and forgivenessbut the film feels like a jumble of parts with little thought given to the whole. He apparently has a play centered entirely on the Aunt Madea character and maybe that would have been a more focused piece to bring adapt as his first screen effort. His drag performance as Madea is less cartoonish than the Big Momma character Martin Lawrence created, and thats what makes it more enjoyable and appealing. Perry creates a character with Madea rather than shtick and we can warm up to her as a person because she doesnt come across solely as a comic caricature. Perry also plays old Joe who is often the victim of Madeas sharp humor, and Brian, a husband coping with two kids and a drug-addicted wife. In this film, Perry is more successful at showing his range as an actor than as a writer.

But despite problems, Diary of a Mad Black Woman may hit a cord with audiences. While many decry Hollywood for its lack of family values, Perry promotes family values and religion but doesnt feel the need to package those ideas in a stuffy, somber tale. He mixes raucous humor with his religious message, and allows for Myrtles faith to be contrasted by Madeas more pragmatic sensibilities. Madea says shell start attending church as soon as they put in a smoking section. Plus Madea pokes fun at notions of forgiveness and suggests that a good lawyer able to grab a hefty settlement in divorce court might be more practical. This mix of faith and irreverence on Perrys part makes his message easier to take. The preview audience for Diary of a Mad Black Woman seemed to embrace it and cheered the film, and especially Madea, on a number of occasions.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman (rated PG-13) is uneven and lacks polish but it did leave me wanting more of Aunt Madeas no-nonsense advice and wicked humor. -----