Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review: Why Did I Get Married?

It is hard to be critical of Tyler Perry's films when you are black, middle class and unaccustomed to seeing portrayals of your life on the big screen. You watch Why Did I Get Married and thrill to see black professionals on screen and handsome black men loving gorgeous black women. You are pleased to experience black cultural nuances portrayed on film. You are relieved by the absence of thuggery, in-the-hood pathos and Soul Plane minstrelsy that Hollywood presents as the defining black experience. You appreciate Perry's tremendous achievement in making blockbuster black films within a racist studio system. You like the movie, even though you realize the plot is predictable, the female characters one-dimensional and the drama heavy-handed.

Is Why Did I Get Married a great film? No. But it's not a bad one. In fact, I think it is his best to date. Will serious fans of film be annoyed by the Perryisms that plague the movie? Yes. But if you're black like me, go see it anyway. You will be entertained.

Why Did I Get Married tells the story of four couples, friends since college, who retreat once a year to bond and take stock of their marriages. Diane (Sharon Leal) and Terry (Tyler Perry) are a couple struggling to balance their high-powered careers with the husband's desire for more children. Angela (Tasha Smith) and Marcus (Michael Jai White) are a loud-talkin', hard-drinkin', no-shit-takin' haircare mogul and her hen-pecked husband, who may be finding relief in the arms of his "baby mama." Sheila (Jill Scott) is a God-fearing, self-esteem-challenged "big girl," tormented by her uncaring husband Mike (Richard T. Jones). Patricia (Janet Jackson) is a famed psychiatrist and author, who guides her friends through marital crises, but still struggles with her husband Gavin (Malik Yoba) over the tragic loss of their young son.

I've never been a fan of Tyler Perry's stage dramadies and the big screen seems to compound their sins: jokes as broad as the Grand Canyon, ham-fisted drama, flat female characters, and intrusive breaks for swelling gospel music. Perry's Daddy's Little Girls was his first film that I enjoyed, and not just because Idris Elba was cast in the lead role. (That didn't hurt, though.) Mr Elba aside, Perry seemed to be finally adapting his over-the-top style, rooted in stage production, to the screen. Why Did I Get Married is another big step forward in this respect.

About those Perryisms...There is clumsy drama in Why Did I Get Married: The secret challenges faced by at least three of the central couples (I won't spoil the movie by revealing them here.) are far beyond normal marital strife. The secrets are so dramatic that it seems unlikely four related couples could all be hiding such shocking dysfunction. Also, I would be surprised if even the dimmest movie-goer couldn't see Perry's plot twists coming a mile away. And then there are the women...Perry's women, though central to his stories, always seem to be caricatures drawn based on stereotypes. (Read Rev. Dr. Renita Weems' take on the character, Madea.) In Why Did I Get Married, the emasculating Sapphire makes an appearance, as does the professional woman too driven to care for her family, and the frumpy, dumpy, self-esteemed challenged fat girl. (Teshima Walker, senior supervising producer for NPR's "Tell Me More" takes on Jill Scott's character.)

All that said, I truly liked Why Did I Get Married. It was well-paced, funny and beautifully shot. The casting was exceptional. (Jill Scott is radiant.) I applaud the work that Tyler Perry has done, and I hope that he continues to grow in his filmmaking skills. I also hope that the success of Perry's movies will open the door for other black voices, including female ones, who can help provide a wider variety of portrayals of black folks on film.

What Other People Are Saying
Listen to last week's Black Women's Roundtable, presented by What About Our Daughters, to hear more on Perry's film, as well as a discussion about Bill Cosby, where I chime in.

What About Our Daughters: Another Black Womens' Roundtable in the Can - We Talked About Cosby Cosby Cosby and oh yeah Tyler Perry Too (Two Guys Invaded the Panel)#links#links

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