Here’s one without Madea. And that’s bad news. As a filmmaker, Tyler Perry employs Madea as a buffering agent, one whose presence establishes a tone of absurdity through which all sorts of incomprehensible plot points and dialogue exchanges are filtered. We don’t care what’s happening in a Madea movie because nothing matters except her. She is Perry’s license to ill and without her he’s stranded in the real world. And he hates the real world.
In his younger years, that real world was cruel to Perry. So he learned to be funny and he learned to write plays, TV shows and movies where his rage could be channeled through a big, brash auntie, one whose protective comedy shepherded a series of hard-knock-life-having female characters. His success at this allowed him to effectively divorce himself from all of it – and that’s fine, really, get the money, buy Oprah and Gayle matching Bentleys, knock yourself out – but it also allowed him never to become a filmmaker who could effectively communicate insights about the lives of the rest of the people who have to live in that real world, the people sadly bereft of a groovy Madea to make it all better with slapstick and motormouthy stream-of-consciousness monologues about Mary J. Blige giving virgin birth (see: A Madea Christmas).
Some of the rest of these people are played here by Nia Long, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Zulay Henao, Cocoa Brown and Amy Smart, five single mothers with script-driven character tics instead of lived-in personalities and a staggeringly offensive array of race-based signifiers. The white women are domestically clueless, racist or emotionally stifled; the Hispanic woman is a “fiery Latina” prone to passionate makeout sessions with her boyfriend when they’re not both stuck reciting go-nowhere dialogue in a Mexican restaurant where a Mariachi band is always – and I mean always – performing “Cielito Lindo;” and the black characters suffer from Waffle House employment, poverty in crapartments near railroad tracks, imprisoned children lost to “these streets” and drug-abusing ex-spouses. Clearly, what they all need to right these wrongs -- after a chance meeting at a parent-teacher conference -- is to get exactly one bottle of Costco wine, tank up at 1pm on a weekday, and establish a group babysitting service for one another. This is the movie’s one decent idea.
It has other ideas, too, like how all of them also need to find good men to settle down with and become better, more attentive mothers instead of worrying so much about their careers. To that end, a series of guys arrive on the scene to tell them what’s wrong with them (a few bits of suavity: “You look sad.” “Talking to you is like pulling teeth, not easy.” “I can pound wood.”). After all this Backwards Day sisterly empowerment, a moment of near-tragedy occurs, instigating a series of bizarre tangents where everyone quickly becomes busy ignoring the problem and focusing on how the crisis will affect 1) the lasting benefits of the babysitting service and 2) their own love lives.
Scenes simply end without resolution. Some go on well past the point at which competent filmmakers would have allowed their editor to do his or her job. Clearly improvised bits ramble off into awkward silence. Weirdly long pauses exist between characters speaking to one another in the same shot. Nothing seems to be anchored to anything except the whims of a filmmaker who shoots first drafts and allows his actors exactly one take to get it right. I hear this is to be the basis for a future TV show on OWN. Maybe Perry’s just working out the kinks in public and asking all of us to buy a ticket. Or maybe, without the wig on, he really just doesn’t give a damn.