This is no mere bad movie. Instead it’s at least three bad movies very loosely tied up in one jaw-droppingly peculiar package.
On the one hand, this film is a made-for-Lifetime style soap opera (actually, several of them). On the other, it’s a lowbrow comedy involving drag acts and really bad character make-ups, with a surprisingly high raunch factor. I say surprisingly high because the film’s purported purpose is to function as some sort of morally uplifting Christian tract.
Now, apparently there’s a considerable market for this mix, since writer/actor Tyler Perry has made a fortune touring in plays of this sort on the Christian theater circuit. How much of a fortune? Well, the monument-to-conspicuous-consumption mansion (bigger than Tara, but slightly smaller than Versailles) featured in the movie is what Mr. Perry calls home. Obviously, selling the gospel with flatulence, horny old men, penis-size jokes, vengeful wronged women, outrageous drag queen grandmas and drug humor pays pretty darned well.
And it’s the sort of mix that’s critic-proof, simply because this is not a movie that’s designed to appeal to people who are interested in movies. Instead, the film’s strictly aimed at Perry’s fan base — and a quick reading of online message boards devoted to Perry and his plays reveals that his adherents don’t differentiate between this attempt at turning one of his plays into a movie and the canned-theater tapings of his earlier appearances for later release in the home-video market. It’s just more Tyler Perry, and apparently that’s enough.
However, for those not plugged into Perry and his particular brand of religiosity, the film is nothing more or less than a fever dream of mixed signals, broad comedy, bad writing and ragingly stereotypical characters.
The movie starts out as glossy (but insanely overheated) soap opera. Charles (Steve Harris, Minority Report) unceremoniously (and literally) throws his wife of 18 years, Helen (Kimberly Elise, The Manchurian Candidate), out of their mansion so he can install his mistress (Lisa Marco) and their two “love children” in her place. That this comes as a shock to Helen must mean that she doesn’t read her own ludicrously bad diary entries (does anybody really start each page with “Dear Diary”?).
Returning to a ridiculously upscale ghetto, Helen throws herself on the mercy of her quasi-foul-mouthed (she says “hell” and “damn” a lot), pistol-packing grandma, Madea (Tyler Perry in fat-suit drag with pendulous breasts and a bad wig). Madea appears to be the hook on which Perry’s success is anchored, making the whole thing just a little like a Christianized variant on Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor movies.
If that’s not enough, we also have Madea’s oversexed, dope-smoking, octogenarian brother, Joe (Perry in amateurish old-age makeup), who tries to put the make on his pretty niece! (In one of the movie’s few truly funny bits, he tries this again with Helen’s mother, telling her, “I got Viagra,” only to be told, “I got mace.”) The film then veers back and forth between low comedy and shrill drama, with occasional time-out for a quiet Christian romance between Helen and the hunky Orlando (Shemar Moore, TV’s The Young and the Restless).
None of it makes a lick of sense, but the movie barges along, seemingly oblivious of the plot holes and a timeframe that never adds up. One moment, the penniless Helen is in jail (she and Madea trashed Charles’ house) on $5,000 bond. The next moment, she’s out. Where did the money come from? No answer.
In an outburst of melodrama, Charles gets shot and is paralyzed, so Helen goes back to him to play nurse. Only instead of taking care of him, she goes all Misery on him, leaving him alone in a room until he soils himself (“You stink”), then crashing his wheelchair into the bathroom so that he literally flies into the tub and nearly drowns, and then starving him! Not only is this pretty dubious Christianity, but it’s typical of the screenplay’s casual inanity.
Are we to believe that the filthy rich Charles doesn’t return home with a real nurse, that there’s nobody else in the house, and that Helen can tote him out of the bath? Considering the fact that everything that happens in Charles’ life appears to take place in some weird vacuum — this upscale couple has no friends? — I guess it’s almost reasonable, apart from the spectacle of Helen supposedly hoisting an easy 200 pounds of dead weight. But it does provide Elise with a mad scene, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Bela Lugosi handed in his SAG card.
As if all this isn’t enough, there’s also a subplot about Helen’s lawyer cousin, Brian (Perry again — this time apparently out of makeup), and his strung-out junkie wife, Debrah (Tamara Taylor, TV’s Party of Five).
Worry not; all will come right in the end. Debrah will check into rehab in the morning and, later in the day, be out in time to burst into the church, where her daughter is singing, to join in the song (at least, it appears that way in the film’s jumbled structure). Charles will see the error of his ways (a little torture never hurts, I guess), and have a faith-healing experience. Helen will run back to Orlando in a scene brazenly ripped off from An Officer and a Gentleman. And Madea will close the events with a series of raunchy outtakes.
Is Diary of a Mad Black Woman unwatchable? No, not at all. In fact, the movie’s so bizarre that it’s train-wreck fascinating, but it’s still a train wreck of stupefying proportions. Ironically, the movie’s unabashed crudity would outrage Perry’s fan base, were it not dressed in Christian clothing. But as a friend of mine remarked, “One man’s message is another man’s propaganda.” Amen. Rated PG-13 for drug content, thematic elements, crude sexual references and some violence.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke