June 17, 2012

DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN: The Most Obnoxious Movie Of All Time

Starring Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris, Shemar Moore, Tamara Taylor, Cicely Tyson & (of course) Tyler Perry. Directed by Darren Grant. (2005, 116 min).

I've seen thousands of movies in my life, so sometimes when someone asks me which one is my favorite, I don't usually have an easy answer. Sure, I have a short list of films which I hold in the highest esteem - Jaws, Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski, The Godfather, Fight Club, etc. - but to cite one as my all-time favorite gets tougher as I get older, and my answer often depends on my mood at the time. I suppose if a gun was put to my head, I'd have to choose Jaws.

I don't have that problem when it comes to my least favorite, the movie I hate, hate, hate above all others. That's easy...Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

I didn't say it was the worst movie. I could list hundreds of worse movies...grade-Z cheapies, unintentionally-hilarious teen dramas, egocentric vanity projects, budget-busting CG-fests that are like watching someone else play a video game, idiotic 'parodies' that simply mimic famous films with added fart jokes; and of course, Italian gorefests, incomprehensibly-edited action films, SyFy Channel premieres, 80's flicks created to sell records, Adam Sandler's entire filmography and fan-tarding YouTube videos.
Still, I'd rather endure all that shit than watch Diary of a Mad Black Woman again, the most annoying, schizophrenic and obnoxious movie I ever sat through, the one film that actually pissed me off while watching.

I know what you're saying: Why didn't you just stop watching it? Trust me, I would have, but at the time I had the good fortune to start writing reviews for a DVD website. The upside of this job was that I got a lot of free discs to add to my collection, and was able to write about a medium I loved, which would actually be read by people. I was also exposed to some absolutely wonderful films that, based on the genre, I would never have chosen on my own. In addition, I could take the discs I didn't like and sell them to a local used CD/DVD store...not for a ton of money, but often enough to fill my gas tank for the week. The downside was I sat through a lot of godawful shit...boxed sets of TV shows from the 70s, cartoons aimed at ten-year-olds, sleazy soft-core porn and movies which held no interest for me whatsoever. Hours - sometimes entire weekends - of reviewing crap I knew I was gonna hate. I used to think being a movie critic was the ultimate job. Now I know better.

One of those films which eventually helped fill my gas tank was Diary of a Mad Black Woman. If it were up to me, I would have shut it off after twenty minutes. Instead, I was forced to endure it all, becoming increasingly disgruntled with each passing minute displayed on my DVD player.

I'm a teacher in the real world, and not long after sitting through this, I attended a workshop with others in my profession. During some downtime, the topic of movies came up, and I expressed my utter hatred of this film. One of the people in this conversation was an African-American woman who tried to explain that the reason for my distain of the film was because I was not black, and could not relate to the culture Diary of a Mad Black Woman was created to appeal to, that this was a black film made for black people.

Well, lady, if that's the case, then you must not have a very high opinion of the intelligence of your own race. Diary of a Mad Black Woman doesn't suck because it's a 'black film.' It sucks because of its utter contempt for the intelligence of anyone watching, regardless of race.

In a nutshell, the film is about a devoted wife who is suddenly betrayed and kicked out of the house by her wealthy, cold-hearted husband. She eventually learns to adapt, work for a living and love again with the aid of her family and the chance-meeting of an impossibly good-looking, sympathetic blue-collar man. Sure, a bit cliche, but perfectly acceptable movie fodder.

But here's the problem...Tyler Perry.

He's not the star of the film, nor is he the director. He's the writer whose prior stage plays are heralded by African-American audiences. He's also the creator of the most blatantly obnoxious, stupid, over-the-top, unrealistic, overbearing and unfunny character in the history of movies...

...Madea, played by Tyler Perry himself.

This is a female character (Perry in drag), an easily-angered old lady who screams a lot and waves a handgun around. As Madea, Perry makes Jerry Lewis look subtle. Although intended to be a humorous character, Madea has nothing funny, clever or insightful to add to this movie. In fact, she almosts exists outside of this movie, and her frequent appearances are almost like intermissions in an otherwise-serious story about a woman trying to regain her life after being betrayed. Medea is hamfistedly wedged into key scenes, totally disrupting the tone of the film. Early on, when Helen (the female lead) is kicked out of the house she once shared with her husband of 20 years, Medea is almost randomly thrown into the picture, and, out of the blue, produces a chainsaw out of nowhere to carve up the man's furniture. It is supposed to be funny, but the viewer ends up thinking, what the fuck? Madea shows up frequently in this film to provide totally unnecessary slapstick comic relief. It's like watching Apocalypse Now, and every 15 minutes or so, The Three Stooges pop up to do their shtick. .

Worse yet is the fact the movie goes to great length making us sympathize with Helen, only to have her suddenly, without warning, turn vicious, vindictive and violent when her husband is incapacitated due to his mob dealings. I know this is supposed to be a “you go girl” moment, but at this point in the film, when Helen has already found true love, these scenes radically, and insultingly, alter the character entirely.

What is ultimately sad about Diary of a Mad Black Woman is there is a pretty good movie to be found in the material. A sentimental chick-flick to be sure, but a potentially audience-rousing film that isn’t an assault to our intelligence.

A great movie, even an “audience” picture, still needs to stick to the established rules of its genre. You simply can’t present a scenario where a woman is forced to make real-life choices, then randomly throw in a MAD Magazine interpretation of a black, anti-social grandma, simply because you cynically think you need to appeal to the dumbest of dumbasses in the audience.

And that’s the problem...Diary of a Mad Black Woman is not a “black film” that white people cannot relate to (in fact, to its credit, race is never an issue here). But it is a stupid, intelligence-bashing, over-the-top cartoon that dumbs-down its message, mostly because Tyler Perry felt the need to shoehorn his Madea creation into a movie which didn’t need it. This makes the movie nothing more than a vanity project of the worst kind.

What is really alarming is that so many people (black, white or whatever) truly love this movie...that so many think it is actually funny, clever, and reflective of real life, when in reality it is as childish as the script for Creepshow.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman is not a black movie. It is not a comedy. It is not a drama. It is not an audience picture. It is a simple-minded film which tries to be all of the above, but failing miserably.

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