Though it will draw one-seventieth of the attention, Diary of a Mad Black Woman’s Christian sermonizing is far more wrongheaded, hypocritical and insulting than The Passion of the Christ.
Truly pious lessons of tolerance in the eyes of Jesus, family and friends are mixed in with jokes about dope smoking, flatulent, masturbating old men and gun-toting grandmas. The movie can’t decide whether it wants to be like school on Sunday or Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in Friday.
Worse yet, moments of cruelty such as dumping a paralyzed man into a bathtub with suggestions of drowning are played for slapstick laughs, not dramatic intensity. Only later are those actions the filmmakers once wanted us to laugh riotously at scolded for being un-Christian. This is the very sort of religious mindset mocked in the best moments of last year’s Saved!
That movie proved there was intelligent, careful, inoffensive mining for comedy to be done in the quest to live a good Christian life. Adapted from a stage play of the same name, Diary of a Mad Black Woman is an unfunny showcase for Tyler Perry, a comic playwright-turned-filmmaker.
Directorial credit goes to music-video veteran Darren Grant, but this really is Perry’s show. He wrote, produced, co-created the score and poorly mimics Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer and Morris Chestnut in each of his three performances. It’s not a vanity project. It’s an ego trip.
In theory, the movie is about Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise), trophy wife to bullheaded attorney Charles. As played by The Practice’s Steve Harris, Charles is a role so one-dimensionally evil it barely qualifies as human. One of the movie’s few original moments is just how coldly he tosses Helen aside 18 years of marriage, having started a family years ago with another woman.
Unemployed and confused, Helen moves back in with her grandmother Madea (played by Perry in drag in a role that is to him as Mama was to Vicki Lawrence). Madea’s antics are, I suppose, meant to endorse simple pleasures like firing guns in the air, assault and property destruction.
The film’s only bearable moments come when Helen becomes romantically interested on the rebound in Orlando (Shemar Moore), a steel-mill worker hoping to prove to Helen not all men are pigs. (Lines like “I got it so bad for you I’d go to the store and buy you feminine products” don’t speak much to Orlando’s suavity, though.) But horridly obvious plot contrivances send Helen back to Charles, spurring one of the least-convincing delays of expected romance of all time.
Elise plays her role as though it were in the movie she perhaps thought she signed on to do — one about a female’s empowerment through inner strength and spirituality. Diary needs more freeing moments such as that in which Helen takes pride in not going after Charles’ massive estate.
But in this weird mélange of Fried Green Tomatoes and So I Married An Axe Murderer, almost everything is reduced to sub-sitcom laughs. (A scene where Helen intimates to Madea domestic violence from Charles is the lowest such point.)
Diary is a religious zealot’s fairytale; how else to describe a movie in which a junkie is released from rehab just in time to put on a nice dress and hit a triumphant note with a church choir? But it’s a movie that preaches forgiveness while doing the unforgivable — using Christianity as a crutch.