Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself

Movie Information

The Story: A selfish woman learns the meaning of love when she inherits her sister's children. The Lowdown: It starts well, but quickly devolves into the usual clunky mishmash of Tyler Perry clichés -- with a few notable scenes that stand out from the rest of the movie.
Score:

Genre: Musical/Drama
Director: Tyler Perry
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Tyler Perry, Adam Rodriguez, Mary J. Blige, Hope Olaide Wilson, Marvin Winans
Rated: PG-13

For the first eight to 10 minutes of Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself I sat in shocked wonder. It appeared that Perry had at last made a good, cinematic movie. The photography was excellent, the setup was smooth and entertaining, the editing was sharp and on the money. The premise and tone of the movie were established with an economy that was pure joy. Unfortunately, the plot set in at this point and we were right back where we’ve always been with Perry: a slab of low-brow comedy, a chunk of hoary melodrama, and good actors (Taraji P. Henson deserves better than this) wasted on an inane story that lurches around for nearly two hours before concluding that all its heroine needed all along was a good (and hunky) man and Jesus.

It’s tired, it’s trite, and it’s predictable. It’s also, apparently, just what Perry’s fans want, and he doles it out faithfully. And, since Perry is nothing if not a canny businessman, he knows to open his movies on weekends where there’s no real competition, so he can claim another number one on opening weekend. This may look good, even if it’s dealt from a stacked deck, but it means a lot less than one might think. Of course, with an approximate budget of $13 million (Perry is also nothing if not frugal), it’s an assured moneymaker regardless. Expecting Perry to radically alter his approach is purely wishful thinking. That’s too bad, because he has the talent to do more than this.

The story this round finds three children—Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson), Byron (Frederick Siglar) and Manny (TV actor Kwesi Boakye)—whose caretaker grandmother has been missing for several days. The kids break into Madea’s (Perry) house to find Madea and her brother Joe (Perry), with predictable results. It turns out that these kids have the weight of the Perry world on their shoulders. Their late mother was a crackhead, Byron has asthma and diabetes, Manny isn’t all there, Grandma is missing, and their fast-living Aunt April (Taraji P. Henson) doesn’t want them. Of course, being that Madea is an unstoppable force of nature, April ends up with them anyhow. Somehow she also ends up with hunky Colombian immigrant Sandino (Adam Rodriguez, TV’s CSI: Miami) living with her, thanks to the machinations of Pastor Brian (Marvin Winans, TV’s Tyler Perry’s House of Payne). None of this sits well with April’s weasel-of-a-married-man boyfriend Randy (Brian White, Fighting).

Surely you know where all this is going—and it’ll get there with rich and steamy melodrama. Subtlety not being a Perry virtue, some of this becomes risible. When Pastor Brian and his friend Wilma (Gladys Knight) come to break the news of what happened to April’s mother, they tactfully bring the old gal’s ashes with them. This, however, is nothing compared to the CD player in the bathtub scene (this movie’s equivalent to Perry’s boiling grits in the face from his 2006 opus Madea’s Family Reunion). Numerous touches—my own favorite being Sandino’s claims of having been forced to pick coca leaves by the drug cartels when he was 7 years old—are in the same abundantly dramatic mode.

But there are other aspects to the movie. I don’t find Madea funny as a rule, but her mangled Bible story about Meshach, Shadrach “and a billy goat” was an exception to that rule. Then, too, the film—which is technically a musical (using the rule of thumb of four songs or more)—boasts at least one dynamite musical number when Mary J. Blige performs the title song. It’s not just that the song is good and she’s terrific, but it’s intelligently presented and intercut with the plot so that—unlike with several of the other songs—the movie doesn’t just stop dead. It’s yet another flicker of the filmmaker Perry could be. (Somewhat amusingly, Perry’s also discovered the jump cut in this movie, but the less said about that the better. Godard, he ain’t.)

Other aspects of the film’s musical bent are less happy. Gladys Knight gets dragged in for a largely superfluous song and as part of a supposedly pivotal gospel-singing sequence. The second of these wouldn’t have been bad, but it goes on and on and on to a point where my mind had long started to wander. (A friend of mine made the case that that’s just like real church, but I doubt that was the idea.) So does the movie, for that matter, which doesn’t seem to know when to stop. (Several people walked out during the climactic musical number at the screening I attended.)

In the end, I Can Do Bad All by Myself is just another Tyler Perry movie—a little better than most in bits and pieces, but overall just more of the same. That means it’s going to delight his fan base and leave the rest of us scratching our heads. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving a sexual assault on a minor, violence, drug references and smoking.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

19 thoughts on “Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself

  1. Sean Williams

    After seeing this one, do you think that Tyler will ever make a genuinely good movie? In the past, you’ve expressed the hope that he may. But, as you said, he’s not about to disappoint his fans’ expectations and therefore has no incentive to improve.

    Somewhat amusingly, Perry’s also discovered the jump cut in this movie

    I’ll only be impressed if he discovers the invisible wipe.

  2. Ken Hanke

    After seeing this one, do you think that Tyler will ever make a genuinely good movie? In the past, you’ve expressed the hope that he may. But, as you said, he’s not about to disappoint his fans’ expectations and therefore has no incentive to improve.

    I’m increasingly doubtful. I think he does slip new things in on the fans in various subtle ways (a strange term for Perry) — a little more attention to filmmaking here, a hint at a broader and broader-minded worldview there. But it so far isn’t adding up.

    I’ll only be impressed if he discovers the invisible wipe.

    Doesn’t Windex make those?

  3. KC Cruzz

    This reviewer did make note of how hunky the Colombian guy is but overlooked how breathtakingly beautiful Taraji is in this movie. Her eyes mesmerize and bring life to the lackluster script. I can’t wait to see her next project. Overall, it was a good movie.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Ms. Henson’s beauty goes without saying (and her abilities as an actress are addressed in the review). Bear in mind that noting the hunkiness of the Colombian guy was not a compliment, but a comment on it being a stock Perry trope.

  5. Sean Williams

    This reviewer did make note of how hunky the Colombian guy is but overlooked how breathtakingly beautiful Taraji is in this movie.

    It seems that you’ve been remiss in your duties, Mr. Hanke. Again.

  6. KC Cruzz

    “Undeniably attractive leads”…Angel Eyes
    “Pretty sorority queen Elle Woods”…Legally Blonde
    “He and Moore are nice to look at”…Laws of Attraction
    I’m not sure how important it was to mention their looks either as these actors are known for their attractiveness. I’m not trying to single you out. Your coworker, Justin Souther, did a review of “I Think I Love My Wife” without as much as mentioning the presence of Kerry Washington in the movie and she was the costar!

  7. Ken Hanke

    I must confess I have no idea what point you’re trying to make.

  8. KC Cruzz

    I know you don’t. Many of you movie reviewers have made such an art form of giving only a cursory mention of the black female leads in your reviews that it has become second nature. My point: This movie gave Taraji an opportunity to have a starring role in a movie that opened nationwide and you focus the majority of your review on Tyler Perry. You aren’t the worst of the worst on your staff in doing this. I thought your coworker, Justin, was completely dismissive of the black FEMALE actor with his review of I Think I Love My Wife. I’m not even sure he even mentioned Kerry and she was the seductive costar. At least you mentioned Taraji’s character in passing.

  9. Ken Hanke

    This is really pretty ridiculous. First of all, I generally focus on the filmmaker, not the performers — even more so when it’s a writer-director. That’s actually true of most reviewers, who are writing about the overall film and not about a specific performance. This is not only going to impact black actresses, but a lot of performers. I was reviewing this more as a Tyler Perry film than a vehicle for Taraji P. Henson. Looking at Justin Souther’s review for I Think I Love My Wife, it’s pretty clear to me that he was focusing on Chris Rock’s attempt at becoming a filmmaker, not the performances by themselves. Generally speaking, you’re not going to find more than a one line comment on a performance — any performance — in a review that’s focused on the movie itself.

    Second, the mentions of the actors being pretty in the reviews you dug up are hardly complimentary in nature, more suggesting that that’s all there is.

    Third, here I stated that Ms. Henson deserves better than this movie, which means that I think a good bit of her talent. You may also note that I used the term “hunky” to describe a typical Perry convention. I didn’t even mention the actor by name.

    Fourth, if you’d dug a little further you’d have found the following —

    “The performances are little short of amazing, especially the ones from Henson and Taryn Manning” (Hustle & Flow)

    “There are no finer actors out there than Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and certainly Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow) and Martin Sheen are in the running.” (Talk to Me)

    “OK, so casting the expressionless Cole Hauser (the poor man’s Josh Lucas, who in turn is the poor man’s Matthew McConaughey) wasn’t so smart, but Taraji P. Henson, KaDee Strickland and Robin Givens help make up for that.” (Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys)

    “The rest of the cast delivers, too, especially Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow) as a sympathetic cop and Taraji P. Henson (another Hustle and Flow veteran) as Jeremiah’s long-suffering wife.” (Four Brothers)

    Does this strike you as coming from someone who is unaware of Taraji P. Henson or her abilities as an actress, which, I suspect, she’d rather see credited than how great she looks? You seem awfully hung up on this business of looks — to the exclusion of worrying over the acting talents of black actresses.

    And what about these bits from reviews of movies with Gabrielle Union?

    “The real treat — and one of the things that keeps Eva constantly watchable — is Gabrille Union (Abandon). She’s not only nice to look at, but she also possesses impeccable comic timing.” (Deliver Us From Eva)

    “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.” (Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls)

    “The luminous Gabrielle Union finally gets something almost worthy of her talent in Alice Kramden, though her role is housed in a movie that unfortunately seems doomed to tank at the box office.” (The Honeymooners)

    This doesn’t strike me as making a very good case against me as someone who has made an “art form of giving only a cursory mention of the black female leads” in his reviews.

  10. KC Cruzz

    If you really thought my point was ridiculous, you would not have put as much research and energy into your rebuttal. But, I appreciate your efforts. What you fail to realize is that all of the people who will be paying their $8.00 is not going to primarily critique what the writer, director did, esp. with Tyler Perry. Many of us went to see Taraji’s starring performance. We already know what we’re getting from Perry when we go to any movie with Madea in it – outrageous silly comedy with an underlying moral theme. Ta daa…I did not need you to cut n’ paste your old reviews of Tyler’s formulaic style of storytelling. I was excited to know what you guys thought about Taraji and the rest of the cast. Did you realize how monumental it was that a very dark-skinned black actress was cast as the default caretaker of her brothers? Do you know how significant that is during a time when most filmmakers are completely ignoring very dark-skinned black actresses in roles which call for caring and sensitivity? You don’t have to answer that. Hollywood is being totally dismissive of Black actresses and reviewers don’t make it any better when they treat them like sidebars. When I saw Justin’s review of Why Did I Get Married that’s when I started observing how you fellas treat Black actresses. It appears you have more of an interest in the male actors, including the black ones. At this point, Tyler Perry (Madea) is the most bankable black actress in Hollywood and that’s a vulgar shame! I know that’s not your fault. I would appreciate it if the reviewers would focus in more on the black actresses, that’s all I’m saying. Thanks for your time.

  11. KC Cruzz

    I know… – Justin critiqued I Think I Love My Wife. His review was the one that started me looking at how you guys handle black actresses in your reviews. He was insulting.

  12. Ken Hanke

    If you really thought my point was ridiculous, you would not have put as much research and energy into your rebuttal.

    Well, it didn’t take all that much time because I knew what I’d said in the past, so it was only a couple of clicks away to find it. But the point of responding was to show that it was demonstrable that there’s no crypto-racist/sexist agenda at work here.

    What you fail to realize is that all of the people who will be paying their $8.00 is not going to primarily critique what the writer, director did, esp. with Tyler Perry. Many of us went to see Taraji’s starring performance

    Yes, that’s why Tyler Perry’s name is all over the film bigger than anybody else’s and is even part of the title. You shoot your own argument in the foot when you note —

    At this point, Tyler Perry (Madea) is the most bankable black actress in Hollywood and that’s a vulgar shame!

    That’s true, which also means that people flock to these movies because they are Tyler Perry movies, not because they are Taraji P. Henson movies. And this isn’t a Taraji P. Henson movie — it’s a Tyler Perry movie with her in it. And, you know what? That’s not a situation that was caused by evil movie critics. You want to get outraged over something, direct it at that situation. Get outraged over the fact that an excellent film like Talk to Me — a film that not only gave Henson a good role, but was made by Kassi Lemons, a black woman — was all but ignored by anyone other than the folks that go to less mainstream fare, while Perry’s righteous bromides rake in the bucks.

    Hollywood is being totally dismissive of Black actresses and reviewers don’t make it any better when they treat them like sidebars. When I saw Justin’s review of Why Did I Get Married that’s when I started observing how you fellas treat Black actresses.

    The thing is that we don’t treat black actresses any differently than white actresses or actors. With very, very few exceptions — like personality vehicles (say an Adam Sandler comedy) — the performers take a back seat (get the sidebar if you like) to the overall film and the filmmaker. It’s the rare review where an actor or actress — regardless of race — gets more than a line or two. If there’s a tendency — which I’m not sure is true — to say more about actors than actresses, that might be because actors tend to be given more interesting and better roles. That’s Hollywood’s fault, but bear in mind that Hollywood is driven by what people will pay money to see. Ultimately, it’s the audiences’ fault.

    As for this I Think I Love My Wife thing, really do you envision a scenario where people were saying, “Hey, let’s go see that new Kerry Washington movie?” That’s pretty unrealistic — the draw of the film (and the focus of Justin’s review) was Chris Rock. (Not that very many people went to see it based on any draw.) There’s nothing insulting about him not mentioning Washington’s performance. Maybe he wasn’t impressed by it. I don’t know. But her not being mentioned is only insulting if you’re looking to be insulted.

  13. KC Cruzz

    Reading your rebuttal makes me realize you and I are not looking at this situation through the same window. Different life experience may play a role in how we view my concerns. This conclusion is confirmed when you insist that Justin’s omission of Kerry in his review of I Think I Love My Wife was not insulting though her presence was very significant to the storyline. Even if he thought she did a less than stellar job he should have mentioned that. Back to you, I wish reviewers would sometimes do some homework before entering the theater. I wanted more than just Tyler’s playbook because I already know whose catching the ball in a Madea movie. Taraji was magical. There were some social aspects to Tyler’s casting and script in this movie that were not even explored. But again, being who I am and based on my life experiences, I was able to immediately pick up on them. As I said before, thank you for your time. Enjoy the movies!

  14. Justin Souther

    I feel like I should get in here and take a few seconds to defend myself.

    Where I understand where you’re coming from, I will say I very rarely if ever wax ecstatic over an actor or actress’ performance or physical appearance regardless of gender or race. If someone is in a Hollywood feature and has made it this far I expect them to have the chops to begin with. I don’t take the time to note each and every actor or actress that gives a good performance because I expect everyone to give one at this point. Kerry Washington did just that in I Think I Love My Wife — she’s a professional actress giving a professional performance (and should be noted remains one of the few things that have stuck with me from that movie two-and-a-half years later). It’s only when they don’t — or give an inordinately spectacular one — that I feel the need to comment on it. For instance, in my I Think I Love My Wife review, I mention Chris Rock, but only for his direction and — with him being co-writer — his brand of comedy, but never do I give any time to his acting ability. And looking back, I spent maybe half a paragraph discussing the plot (which in general is not a lot, but I felt was sufficient for this film) which is more the reason I omitted her from the review, as well as nearly every other performer in the film.

    Any offense you’ve taken with my reviews is certainly not on purpose or intentional. Knowing who I am as a person — and you’ll simply have to take my word on this, I suppose — the last thing I want to do in the pages of this paper is to come across as racist or sexist. But personally I would prefer anyone’s opinions of me to be based on what I am saying as opposed to what I am not.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Reading your rebuttal makes me realize you and I are not looking at this situation through the same window.

    It would be far more remarkable if we were.

    This conclusion is confirmed when you insist that Justin’s omission of Kerry in his review of I Think I Love My Wife was not insulting though her presence was very significant to the storyline. Even if he thought she did a less than stellar job he should have mentioned that

    Actually,if he had thought that he likely would have mentioned it. The fact is that Justin and I are movie critics. We are not publicists for Kerry Washington or Taraji P. Henson or anybody else. We are not required to be members of anyone’s fanbase.

    Back to you, I wish reviewers would sometimes do some homework before entering the theater.

    What does that even mean in this context? Some homework on what?

    I wanted more than just Tyler’s playbook because I already know whose catching the ball in a Madea movie.

    Well, Perry’s playbook is exactly what Perry delivered — and exactly what I reviewed, since it was the overriding factor and it’s also the largest draw of the movie.

    Taraji was magical

    That’s what’s known as an opinion. I don’t happen to agree with it in this particular instance, though I’d agree with you were you talking about Hustle & Flow or Talk to Me. I’m not blaming Ms. Henson. She’s let down by a heavy-handed script and even heavier-handed direction. She’s trapped in a soap opera and her presence can only elevate it so much.

    There were some social aspects to Tyler’s casting and script in this movie that were not even explored.

    Indeed? What would these be? I’m genuinely curious. I’m also curious as to why Ms. Henson and Ms. Washington appear to be your particular hobby horses. What’s your position on black film in general? Saying that you bring your own life experience to bear on this really doesn’t clarify anything, because that’s true of everyone’s reaction to anything.

  16. KC Cruzz

    Thank you Justin for taking the time to consider my concern with your review of I Think I Love My Wife. I appreciate the fact that you were thoughtful and humble enough to state that you “understand where [I'm] coming from”. I know it may not change the way you handle your business as a reviewer but admitting you understand another person’s position is a very good start. Enjoy the movies!

  17. Karisma

    I want to start by saying that “I Can Do Bad By Myself” was a great movie…It may not have been the movie for you…If you feel that Tyler Perry movies are a disappointment then why go watch them? This movie had a message that neither movie had before. The focus of the movie was not based on Madea’s atttude, whether shes funny or night, her crazy stories and her family…This movie had a story of somebodys life…It made you look or think about a situation differenly…It was a family base movie…The music was good….People need to realize that you can listen to pop and not go to hell…Learning to have a time and place for the music…Learn how to control their way of thinking for when the time is right…We all may have our likes and dislikes about the movie…But ask yourself if you can do better? if you say you can, then show us(the audience) and tyler perry

  18. Ken Hanke

    If you feel that Tyler Perry movies are a disappointment then why go watch them?

    Because it’s my job. I don’t get to just see movies I like.

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