Through 10 years and seven (soon to be eight) sequels, I’ve never understood the popularity of Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies. After watching the film that started it all, I still don’t understand the appeal.
Just seeing the previews for these movies, I had pictured them as ridiculous, slap-stick comedies starring Tyler Perry in multiple roles a la Eddie Murphy in the Nutty Professor. Just 15 minutes into Diary of a Mad Black Woman, I find that’s not the case. The movie is still ridiculous, but for different reasons. At first, I thought I was watching a Lifetime movie (the quality throughout the film doesn’t change my opinion on this). The movie stars Kimberly Elise as Helen McCarter, a woman celebrating 18-years of marriage to her perfect attorney husband, Charles, who is accepting some sort of prestigious award during the opening scene. We soon find out that once Helen and Charles are out of the public’s eye, not everything is perfect.
Now, the movie doesn’t really portray an accurate concept of time unless it’s absolutely necessary, which then it’s narrated to the viewer through Helen’s “diary entries”. Oh, and yes, there is narration, but it only pertains to one of the three concurrent storylines in the film. Anyway, shortly after their turbulent anniversary, Helen comes home to find her things being loaded into a U-Haul. She waits for Charles to arrive home and when he does, he shows up with his mistress. Helen had been suspecting of Charles’ affair and now he’s confirmed it, but that’s not all. Charles is hitting her with the old “Surprise, I want a divorce and I’m kicking you out of the house right at this minute! Also, I have two sons who I’ve been raising behind your back!” This movie is already so messed up.
So with no home to go to, she heads to her Aunt Madea’s house for some good old-fashioned comic relief. This is the brief moment where we leave the Lifetime drama genre and move briefly into comedy. Madea takes Helen back to her house to trash the place, attempt to steal some cash, and get into a fight with Charles that ends up with Madea wielding a chainsaw and cutting furniture in half so Helen can take what’s hers. Did I mention that this movie is ridiculous?
After a few minutes in court, Helen is out on bail and Madea, an apparent repeat offender, is placed under house arrest. Now that detail is taken care of, cut to a party at Madea’s house. Either I wasn’t paying close enough attention or they didn’t address what the party was for, so I’m just going to assume it was a house arrest party. It’s here we meet Orlando, Helen’s next love interest and also the guy who Charles paid to load her stuff in the U-haul and drive her from his home in that awful first act of the movie. We also learn more about her brother, Brian (also played by Perry), who is struggling with his wife’s drug addiction. I should mention that it’s here where the movies switches back to serious mode for the rest of the way aside from a few Madea one-liners and a gratuitous fart joke later.
Through a series of narrated diary entries, montages and just about any other cliché you can think of, the rest of the movie plays out about as excitingly as a series of Chevy commercials. Helen starts to date and falls in love with Orlando (because he’s perfect, obvs). Meanwhile, Charles gets involved representing a shady client from his past, loses his case and gets shot in the courtroom and paralyzed. Upon learning this, Helen comes to care for him after his mistress leaves him because she refuses to be with a man who can’t walk.
While caring for Charles, Helen decides to get some revenge by doing some pretty awful things to him. This short character transformation doesn’t last, as she eventually comes to her senses and forgives him and they share a culminating moment together at church watching her niece sing in front of the congregation. Brian’s wife then shows up looking clean after being in rehab, joins in on her daughter’s performance and to top it all off, Charles stands up and walks in the middle of church. Everything is good in all the storylines save for the fact that Helen has basically ignored Orlando’s existence for about month. The last we saw him, he had actually proposed to her right before she stormed off upon learning about Charles’ incident. Cut to a family dinner at Madea’s house. Everyone has reconciled and all is resolved. That is, until Helen turns to Charles and apologizes. She then pulls out the divorce papers she must always carry around (They had been separated for months. She must’ve been waiting for just the right moment or for this horrible movie to end.) She leaves, finds Orlando and tells him to propose again. Without much question of the previous however many weeks they haven’t been talking, he does and NOW everything is resolved.
This movie wasn’t good at all. It probably wasn’t good in 2005. Even for a meager five million dollar budget, the quality of this movie is just bad and it seemed as though I was watching three different movies as it jumped genres at times. Some of the montage moments were downright comical. My favorite was the one set to a gospel cover of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.” I also found the title to be misleading, assuming that the mad black woman was Madea, when it was actually referring to Helen during the 7 minutes of this movie she was mad. In fact, Madea wasn’t even much of a focal point, yet this movie kicked off this tragic franchise. I’m sure if I had gone to this 10 years ago, my 17-year-old self would’ve left the theater after 10 minutes. If not for the sake of this review, I doubt I would’ve lasted five.