The real question for me about Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? came about 30 minutes into the film: “Why am I watching this movie?” The question, of course, was rhetorical. I’d already tried to weasel my way out of seeing it, but my reviewing compadre, Justin Souther (who nonetheless sat through most of the film with me), pointed out that I had seen all of Perry’s theatrical ventures and was therefore the better choice since I was more familiar with Perry’s oeuvre. (I must reward him for his logic and perception at some future point.)
The fact remains that, yes, I’ve seen Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) and Daddy’s Little Girls (2007). While it should be noted that Perry hired a director for his first films—Darren Grant (who promptly went back to obscurity as soon as Perry decided to do it all himself)—there’s never been any question as to who wears the pants—and occasionally, the frocks. Perry is without question an auteur—a fact that should settle for all time the misconception that auteur is a term signifying quality. Perry’s movies offer conclusive testimony that being an auteur simply indicates the presence of a single unifying vision at work. It doesn’t mean you’re in the presence of a great filmmaker. After all, Ed Wood was an auteur, too.
It isn’t that Perry hasn’t learned anything over the past few years. He has. He’s learned that his movies are critic-proof, and so he doesn’t bother with improving either his mastery of filmmaking or upping his production values. This newest opus looks just as cheap and amateurish as the first one. The script is the usual assortment of clichés and tidy sermonizing. Apparently, Perry’s fans don’t care that no one talks like the characters in these films—just as long as it’s all seasoned with a lot of references to God and “living right.”
He’s also learned—in the wake of the unexciting box-office performance of Daddy’s Little Girls—that his films fare better if he appears in them. The question remains if he’s about to learn that they fare better still if he appears in them dressed in drag as the outspoken Madea character. I’m not sure that two references to Madea’s cure for a bad husband—a pot of bubbling grits in the face—will satisfy his core audience’s desire for the full Madea experience.
In Why Did I Get Married? Perry has given himself the lead role as Terry, the long-suffering, incredibly patient doctor married to a workaholic wife, Diane (Sharon Leal, Dreamgirls). Terry—for reasons having more to do with plot than good sense—has masterminded a romantic retreat in snowy Colorado where not only he and his spouse, but three other couples as well stay in a little cabin straight out of a General Foods’ International Coffees commercial. Being a Tyler Perry film, this is merely a setup for a lot of talk, talk and more talk—in this case, centering on the nature of marriage at its most melodramatic. I lost track of the infidelities, presumed infidelities and general catalog of marital strife that he’s managed to pack into this one movie, but the only thing that seemed to be lacking was for one of the characters to turn out to be gay. (That wasn’t likely in Perry’s very traditional Christian-centric worldview, of course, as made evident by the offensively caricatured gay couple in an early scene.)
Only part of the movie takes place in the snowbound setting, but that simply means that the endless talk and facile lecturing gets spread out over a variety of locations. And nothing changes the fact that Perry’s film is undiluted Lifetime TV soap plastered large across the big screen. Platitudes, homilies and bromides abound—all feeling like they were cribbed off bumper stickers. The depths of shallowness, however, are plumbed when the psychologist of the group, Patricia (Janet Jackson, sans “wardrobe malfunction,” if you were wondering), opts to salvage two of the marriages by having the women make lists of their husbands’ good and bad attributes and tally them up! (Strangely, the men are in need of no such lists—and, in fact, make it clear that they’re only teaching their wives a lesson by walking out on them while fully intending to return, not questioning whether or not their wives want them to return.)
The single bright spot in the film is Jill Scott in the role of the overweight and much-abused Sheila. She makes her character touching and likable—no small accomplishment given the fact that she has to pretend not to see that her pig of a husband (Richard T. Jones) is a prime specimen of a human bacterium. Scott’s not enough to make the film worth seeing, but if you have to see it, she’s the one to focus on. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual references and language.