A message to folks who are fed up with black stereotypes in the movies: Give Diary of a Mad Black Woman a chance. Although the film adaptation of playwright-actor Tyler Perry’s hit stage play caters to a few overused caricatures, it also has its share of insightful moments. Despite a bumpy beginning littered with cultural clichés, the film manages (barely) to separate itself from yet another pedestrian black flick written to play on stereotypes.
The story is typical. Helen (Kimberly Elise) plans on celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary with her rich, black, asshole lawyer husband, Charles (Steve Harris). Instead, he shows up with another woman, throws Helen out, and in the blink of an eye, leaves her to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. Her refuge is the church, and a dream of building a loving relationship with someone who’s not an asshole.
Despite the predictable setup, Elise delivers a powerful and convincing performance. Shemar Moore is too much of a sex symbol to be convincing as Orlando, the good man she eventually finds, but his character is never meant to show much depth, so it works.
With the exception of Moore, the acting is strong enough to make up for the weak scriptwriting, but the really refreshing face is Perry, who proves to be a true talent, playing three separate roles, one in drag. His Madea, the Mabel-like mother who comes across as stereotypical as Hattie McDaniel, is Perry’s signature character, and has become a bit of a cult classic.
He also plays Madea’s brother, Joe, and her son, Brian, whose wife struggles with heroin addiction.
With Helen and Brian’s story lines taking the lead, the plot develops a few interesting twists. The black church plays heavily into the film, maybe a bit too much for viewers who are unaccustomed to hearing, in film, the Christian rhetoric so common in many black plays. In fact, the film’s message of perseverance and adherence to faith and belief is one of its strengths.
There are stereotypes, however, that leave this movie wide-open for either criticism or laughter, depending on your tolerance. Madea’s house arrest and subsequent front-porch barbecue is a glaring example. Not to mention, she’ll pull a pistol or curse someone out in a heartbeat. That seems extreme. But then again, some of us might know an old family friend who really is just like her.
Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].