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Diary of a Mad Black Woman Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

Diary of a Mad Black Woman is full of so many different things, and wants to be so many different movies, that I honestly don't know what to make of it. All I know is that the movie is about two hours long, and I liked about an hour of it. I liked a lot of the drama, most of the characters, and I greatly admired all of the actors, but I absolutely loathed the comedy. That's because the epicenter of comedy in Diary of a Mad Black Woman is a boisterous old demon of a grandmother named Madea, played by Tyler Perry, who also wrote and produced this film. Madea is a real piece of work—she's always shouting nonsense, carries a loaded pistol in her handbag, and embodies a truly psychotic type of ghetto justice. Madea urges violence and vengeance where normal people are easily forgiving, and she always feels she has something to say (in that howling, ear-splitting voice, no less), even though the world would be much better off without her. She's not just some innocent "well, come on in!" southern grandma, she's an offensive lunatic who expresses her anger not through attitude, but a chainsaw. Tyler Perry seems to think that Madea is funny. She's not, and she essentially ruins any chance this movie had of winning over an audience.

Madea is by no means the only bad thing about Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but she's by far the worst thing about it. Tyler Perry's script also needs work—some of the drama, particularly the various romances in the story, are schlocky, and there's not a lot of dialogue that really zings (at one point, someone actually says, "I'll be your knight in shining armor." Without laughing). There're a few side plots the movie could do without too. But no matter what the criticism is, it always comes back to Madea, her cruelty, and the agonizing minutes when she's onscreen. The weirdest part is, all the other, more normal characters don't seem to think there's anything wrong with her. Even after she breaks into the mansion owned by her granddaughter's jerk of an ex-husband and destroys all of his furniture with a chainsaw, Madea's family doesn't think anything of it. Who are these people? How could they possibly tolerate her, and who the hell let Tyler Perry convince himself that this was a good idea for a character? Sweet Jesus, what's the world coming too?

Sorry I said "Sweet Jesus," but it's actually a good segway to my next point. When it isn't begging for laughs, or milking its so-so drama, Diary of a Mad Black Woman is almost always trying to push its decidedly Christian agenda. There's nothing wrong with this, but I wish Perry and his director, Darren Grant, didn't make their agenda so obvious, because as it stands, this movie feels too much like a sermon. There's nothing subtle about Diary's attempt to, shall we say, persuade the non-believers in the theater—but, then again, whoever asks for subtlety in a movie like this deserves a good slap in the face.

Though Madea herself is rather mad black woman, the title doesn't refer to her. The keeper of the movie's diary is Helen (Kimberly Elise), a good woman and homemaker who is dearly devoted to her rich lawyer husband, Charles (Steve Harris). However, soon Helen finds out about Charles' cheating ways (and his second family), and before she can say one word of protest, Charles kicks her out of the house. With no job and no immediate family to stay with (her mother is in a nursing home, thanks to Charles), Helen moves in with Madea, her grandmother. And then, after that ridiculous chainsaw incident, Helen starts her life anew—she meets a new man (Shemar Moore), gets a job as a waitress, and gets closer to Madea and other members of her extended family.

I don't know how someone as smart, sweet, and lovable as Helen can take Madea and the rest of the family. Putting the wild grandma aside for a moment, Helen has to deal with her horny grandfather (also played by Perry), her drug addict cousin, Debra (Tamara Taylor), and Debra's boring husband Brian (Perry once more), characters of various levels of intolerability. Actually, Helen is the main reason why half of Diary of a Mad Black Woman works, partly because she's a fascinating woman, developed very well by Perry's script, and partly because of Kimberly Elise's mesmerizing performance. Elise is a force of nature in this movie, wilted and vulnerable during Helen's tumultuous divorce, and fierce and imposing when she finally exacts her revenge. Because Diary covers such a variety of emotional themes, we get the privilege of seeing Elise's dramatic range which, unlike the rest of this movie, is a sight to behold.

The other actors are good too. Shemar Moore's role as the do-gooder new boyfriend who picks up all the pieces is underwritten and kind of hokey, but Moore plays it passionately, with confidence and true feeling. Steve Harris, who's also forced into a rather shallow role as Helen's snake of a husband, is equally impressive, especially in the film's final moments when Charles does a little soul-searching. And the film's multi-tasking star, Tyler Perry, though deserving of a good beating for creating Madea, is obviously a very talented actor, and I'm sure he could probably play any kind of character—male or female—convincingly. I won't knock Perry's acting ability—it's his judgment I question.

Again, I come back to the image of Madea and her chainsaw. It's an apt metaphor for what Tyler Perry does with Diary of a Mad Black Woman—he takes a promising project, blessed with an occasionally profound script and great actors, and rips it to shreds. Madea tears through this thing like a rusty saw through bone, and Perry can never quite clear away the wreckage she leaves behind.

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