Tyler Perry—the master of mediocrity—is back. This time, however, he chooses to stay behind the camera and not play dress up. That means there’s no flatulent, dope-smoking, smart-mouthed Uncle Joe and no pseudo-foul-mouthed, ersatz-outspoken Madea. That also means that he’s probably just lost 90 percent of his target audience. While I admire his gamble, I have to say that even when Perry doesn’t dress up like a woman, he’s pretty much a drag—maybe more so.
While I don’t find the Madea character funny, I will say that a man dressed up as a plus-size woman wielding a chainsaw is at least a somewhat original image. Originality is something the overwrought and undercooked Daddy’s Little Girls could use to at least partly pull itself out of its Lifetime-TV-movie doldrums. But originality is something the film doesn’t have.
Those familiar with Perry’s oeuvre (I regret to say, I’ve seen all three of his theatrical films) will immediately recognize all the usual trappings, from the inner-city Atlanta images—complete with a shot of a church (in Perry’s work, this qualifies as product placement)—to the sitcom (or sitdram) setups. There’s the cheesy melodrama, the incorporation of a local music spot, the business of surrounding the professional actors with sub-community-theater thespians and the disconcerting endorsement of violence as a solution. Also, despite the fact that Perry is fabulously wealthy (see his estate in 2005’s Diary of a Mad Blackwoman), he never met a corner he didn’t want to cut. The threadbare production values and use of obviously traded-out locations and props—not to mention those cases of Dasani bottled water he apparently scored from Coca-Cola to use at every opportunity in Daddy’s Little Girls—bear silent testimony to the fact that this is one rich cat who plans on getting even richer.
Subtlety is not a word in Perry’s lexicon. He directs with all the finesse of a runaway steamroller coming down the Matterhorn. Early on in Daddy he stages a scene where our hero, Monty (Idris Elba, The Gospel), visits his daughters who are staying with their maternal grandmother (Rochelle Dewberry). Despite the fact that the grandmother appears to be bald from chemo (I guess that’s the reason for the turban), has more pill bottles on her kitchen table than you’d find at most pharmacies, and coughs more than Garbo in the last reel of Camille, Monty seems quite shocked to learn that the old gal is dying from lung cancer and needs him to take the girls off her hands—and keep them away from her evil daughter/their evil mother. It’s bad expository writing, but just in case we’re as dumb as Monty and still don’t get it, Perry moves his camera in to roam across the ashtray and portable pharmaceutical company on the table, whereupon, believe it or not, a bell tolls. Ask not for whom it tolls, because grandma’s being buried in the next scene.
No sooner has granny made her final appearance than Evil Daughter Jennifer (Tasha Smith, ATL) arrives wearing trashy, skin-tight clothes, sporting tons of cheap jewelry and bedaubed with enough makeup for a Kabuki performance—with drug-dealing boyfriend Joe (Gary Sturgis, Diary of a Mad Black Woman) and his thugs in tow. She rants, she raves, she does everything but fall down in a fit as she establishes her villainy—and announces her inexplicable and unmotivated desire to recoup her children. This is all setup, mind you, but the whole film is in the key of overkill. (Just wait till she sends her eldest—about 13 years old—daughter out to sell drugs at school. If the woman had a mustache, she’d twirl it.)
Somehow in all this, there’s time for Monty to have a romance with high-class lawyer Julia (Gabrielle Union, Running with Scissors), despite their class differences and her not unreasonable desire for a boyfriend who understands the concept of “noun/verb agreement,” which Monty is a little sketchy on. But, as it turns out, she’s an uptight bitch and needs a “regular guy” like Monty—so the film suggests anyway. That Monty only stops (and reluctantly, at that) at taking advantage of her drunkenness at one point because she’s being spectacularly unwell in the bathroom doesn’t faze Perry. (What happened to Perry’s usual too-Christian-to-have-pre-marital-sex characters from his first movie?)
It’s all done in typical Perryian broad strokes, with plot devices that are at best absurd (why does the judge need witnesses to hold Joe when the cops have found him in possession of about a ton of drugs?) and at worst laughably convenient (Monty runs a stop sign at precisely the right moment to crash into Joe’s car as it crosses the intersection). The only saving grace lies in the performance of Gabrielle Union, who occasionally overcomes the cheap melodrama of Perry’s script by her sheer presence. It’s not enough to make the film worth watching, but a drowning viewer will grab any available lifeline. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, drug and sexual content, some violence and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke