Diary of a Mad Black Woman (review)

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Movie of the Damned

It’s kindness, at first, that leads you to suspect that someone is pulling our collective leg with Diary of a Mad Black Woman, because surely anything this jaw-droppingly awful must be a joke. Surely this is not being proffered with any genuine intention of it being seen as, well, an actual movie, with a plot and characters and scenes that connect in some reasonably logical sense. This must be a MAD TV sketch that went horribly wrong and escaped into the wild where it turned feral. Right?
The inclination to charity gets squashed quickly enough, as Diary descends from the merely unbearable in the way of most “comedies” these days, with frantic swings from gross-out humor to sticky-icky sentimentality, to a level of unmitigated disaster that has to be seen to be believed, though I implore you to just take my word for it and stay far away. A bizarre amalgam of about 37 very different movies all crushed together in one 120-minute assault, Diary isn’t merely content, as most other soul-crushing movies these days are, to simply dispense with concepts such as the necessity of maintaining a consistent tone. No, Diary spits in the face of all pretexts to artistry, to craftsmanship, to simple good taste. There’s an aggressive, foot-stomping appeal to the lowest common denominator here, as if it were a particular achievement in combining fart jokes and soft-focus women’s melodrama; there’s a mercenary bottom-feeding-ness to the movie, as if it imagined no one anywhere would be able to resist its all-things-to-all-people approach.

Diary wastes no time — it aims low, low, low right from the beginning, though it might not seem that way at first. The film opens with romantic naif Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise: The Manchurian Candidate, John Q) being literally dragged by her hair and literally thrown out the front door of her own home by her husband of 18 years, Charles (Steve Harris: Bringing Down the House, Minority Report). Charles is so monstrously caddish, his emotional, psychological, and physical abuse so extreme, that it’s ludicrous… unless taken as some kind of satire, which is what I took it for initially. Oh, and I didn’t even mention the home from which Helen is literally thrown, a grotesquely gaudy mansion that would give Robin Leach ten kinds of orgasms. The whole setup is so preposterous that naturally, I imagined, the only thing that could possibly follow would be an equally preposterous revenge on Helen’s part.

But no. Instead, Helen stumbles into The Klumps, when she runs home to her grandmother, Madea, who is tiresomely played by a 35-year-old man — the screenwriter, Tyler Perry — in an enormous fat suit and garish housedresses. Madea is a loud, obnoxious stereotype, as is the brother she lives with, Joe, who is Perry again, in a different fat suit. Clearly, there is an audience for this new kind of fatface/blackface vaudeville, but is it the same audience that wants to see a female empowerment fantasy? But wait: Just when you’ve forgotten all about the revenge satire and have resigned yourself to suffering through all sorts of juvenile humor about fat people, old people, fat people having sex, old people smoking dope, and so on, Diary shifts gears again, with the appearance of Helen’s mother (Cicely Tyson: Because of Winn-Dixie)… and now all of a sudden it’s a Jeebus movie, all gauzy soft-focus ladies in flowery dresses asking God to save them from themselves and praying for the strength to forgive monstrously caddish husbands. The shift is so dramatic, it’s like someone switched the channel from Spike to WE.

As if he’s wielding a sledgehammer with intent to bash your brains in, director Darren Grant lets his movie veer wildly like this, from tawdry fat-suit vaudeville to diaphanous melodrama, from non sequitur movie references meant to be hilarious because they’re coming out of the mouth of a young man in old-lady drag, to sad tales shot like greeting-card commercials. And don’t think Grant and Perry — in his screenwriter suit — won’t drag in yet more genres. There’s the disease-of-week, featuring the tragic junkie wife of Helen’s cousin, Brian (Perry again, though thankfully this time without the help of prosthetics). There’s the courtroom drama of lawyer Charles’s wallowing in moustache-twirling corruption. There’s the Christian romance of Helen and Orlando (Shemar Moore), an impossible paragon of virtuous manliness who not only has a selection of color-coordinated bandana headbands to accessorize his working-class wardrobe but also volunteers to run out for tampons whenever Helen might require this of him (and no, I’m not joking); Orlando is as cartoonish, if in the opposite direction, as Charles is.

Really, the only thing missing here is an acid-drooling alien larvae popping out of someone’s chest and then leading an army of cops on a high-speed chase on a busy freeway. Although, dramatically, the same effect is achieved via the tantrum Helen finally throws when she has the most unlikely chance to get some payback from Charles. There’d been no drama in her story since the opening moments of the film, so I guess Grant and Perry decided they needed some here at the end, no matter how schizophrenic it is.

I’ve never seen a movie more all over the place than this one. It wants to be heartbreaking, it wants to be ridiculous, it wants to save your soul. All I know is, I prayed and prayed for it to be over, and my prayers were ignored. It’s probably my punishment for not believing in God, but after this experience, can you blame me?

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