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Monday, December 6, 2010

FILM REVIEW OF "DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN"

African-American playwright/comedian Tyler Perry takes impersonating older black women to a whole new level in director Darren Grant's crowd-pleasing comedy "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," a riotously funny, but romantically soapy, revenge fantasy about a wife of 18 years who finds herself abandoned by her rich, philandering husband and forced to fend for herself. Like Eddie Murphy, Perry spreads himself throughout "Diary" in three separate roles. He plays a mild-mannered lawyer; a hormone-addled geezer, and his crowning glory: Madea, a wild and woolly grandma who would curl the Terminator's toe-nails. Indeed, Flip Wilson paved the way for black female impersonators back in the 1960s with his hit TV show where he popularized the character of Geraldine. Later, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence set new standards with their side-splitting portrayals of black matriarchs respectively in "The Nutty Professor" flicks and "Big Momma's House." Whereas Murphy played an older, fatter woman fairly straight in the "Nutty Professor" farces, Lawrence played an FBI agent masquerading as an armed and dangerous big momma-type out to collar crooks. Not only does Perry let his falsetto-voiced grandma pack an automatic pistol, but also he puts her behind the wheel of a Cadillac that she drives as if it were a Bradley Assault Vehicle. When you aren't busting a gut laughing at the antics of Madea, you'll be cheering on Kimberly Elise as she matches wits with her villainous husband played by Steve Harris in a game of one-oneupmanship. Imagine the Ice-Cube ghetto comedy "Friday" criss-crossed with "Waiting to Exhale" and "Soul Food," and you'll have a fair idea what to expect from the PG-13 rated "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." The dominant theme here is forgiveness, and characters learn about the meaning of forgiveness.

Basically, "Diary" details three stories. The first concerns an elite Atlanta, Georgia, attorney Charles McCarter (Steve Harris) who kicks his wife of 18 years, Helen (Kimberly Elise of "Beloved"), out of his palatial mansion. He evicts Helen, because he feels like he isn't spending enough time with his sexy Hispanic mistress (Lisa Marcos) and the two kids that he conceived with her. When Helen refuses to go quietly, Charles turns into a Neanderthal and drags her by the hair out the door. Charles has already loaded all Helen's stuff into a U-Haul truck, and he has hired a friendly steelyard worker, Orlando (debonair Shemar Moore of "The Brothers"), to take her wherever she wants. Eventually, Helen winds up back in the ghetto at her grandma's house. Grandma Madea (Tyler Perry in drag) lets Helen stick around until she can get back on her feet. Seems Helen signed a prenup, so she isn't entitled to squat. Nevertheless, Madea brandishes her pistol and convinces Helen that she has a right to payback. "This is for every black woman who ever had a problem with a black man!" Meanwhile, in the second story, which occurs twenty minutes into "Diary," Helen falls in love with the U-Haul driver. Talk about too good to be true! This tale resembles a Harlequin romance. Orlando pleads with Helen, "I want to be your knight in shining armor." The third plot involves another attorney, Brian (Tyler Perry straight), who worries about the effect that his estranged crack-head wife, Deborah (Tamara Taylor of "Senseless"), may have on their young daughter and the fear that the child may follow in her mom's footsteps.

First-time director Darren Grant knows when to pour on the sap and splash on the slapstick. Just when "Diary" gets incredibly sticky with feel-good, religious sentiment, Grant brings on the comic relief in the form of Perry either as the outrageous Madea or as her vulgar brother Joe who saves this melodrama from sinking beneath the weight of its own treacle. Perry penned the screenplay based on a couple of black gospel stage plays that are available on video. He alternates comedy with drama so that there's nary a dull moment. Moreover, like any good scenarist, Perry tosses in a surprise or two, so that "Diary" doesn't get stuck in a rut. Kimberly Elise, who looks like an African-American Brigitte Bardot, is both sympathetic and believable as the woebegone wife who gets mad but ultimately gets even. Any woman--black, white, or any color—will savor those moments with great relish when Helen extracts her pound of flesh from her arrogant spouse. Despite the inherently contrived quality of the material, which consists of tried-and-true clich├ęs and conventions, the first-class cast makes us believe in the storybook romantic as much as the unusual about-face changes in behavior that other characters make. While it may sound like Grant and Perry are out to bash men, this is far from true. They balance the negative with the positive, then provide insight the like of which rarely appears in most mainstream Hollywood movies, because it would seem artificial. Although aimed primarily at African-American audiences, "Diary of a Mad Black Women" deals in truths about the human condition that know no color barrier and will tickle any funny bone.