As I was walking out of Tyler Perry's new movie with a big smile on my face, I started wondering why he didn't screen it in advance for critics.
One answer, of course, is obvious. First, why would he need critics? He's got Oprah and an army of devoted fans in place. The second one was what I wasn't quite prepared for. A quick visit to Rotten Tomatoes revealed it got a rather paltry 26 percent positive reviews, beating only "Ghost Rider" at 22 percent (I won't be bothering with that one.)
Twenty-six percent? Were they watching the same movie as me? I concede that Tyler Perry is not yet close to any standard of a "great" director. One shot near the beginning just made me visibly cringe in my seat. The mother-in-law of our hero, Monty James (Idris Elba), tells him she is dying of cancer (trust me, I'm not giving much away here.) In one shot, we pan down the table, from her pills to an ashtray full of cigarettes, then straight to her funeral.
I can understand why critics shy away from such heavy-handed work, but it's a minor complaint for me. The overall feel of this movie is so positive, and much more importantly, entertaining, that I'm willing to forgive such misdemeanors.
In a way, Tyler Perry makes me think of Woody Allen. Now, bear with me here. I fully understand that Tyler Perry isn't Woody Allen, but to me they share many of the same strengths. First, with Perry's movies, and especially with "Daddy's Little Girls," you get the same sense of place in Atlanta that Woody used to be able to find in New York. And, if you've ever been to Atlanta, that's no small feat.
Second, just as Woody made his best move in years by stepping out of the picture for "Match Point," Perry makes a real step forward here by taking off the wig and giving Madea a rest. While she is a funny character, she would have just been a distraction from the great work here of Elba and Gabrielle Union (was she really in "Bring It On"? Amazing.)
Anyone who's seen a Tyler Perry movie will find the story familiar. He works within the gospel play format, so it's always all about the drama. The good guys will be flawed but essentially good people, and the bad guys will just be the scum of the earth.
Here, the good guy is Elba's Monty James, a mechanic and the single father of the three titular little girls. Their mother has abandoned them to shack up with a crack dealer, and has now decided she wants them back. Union plays a talented lawyer too devoted to her work to have any kind of social life.
Through a series of events, Union ends up representing Monty in his custody case and, this being a Tyler Perry movie, they fall in love. If this all sounds wretchedly sweet to you, trust me, it is.
But what makes it all work is the two performers. Idris Elba will probably be familiar to most people from his great work as Russell "Stringer" Bell on "The Wire," but I also liked him in "The Gospel." As Monty James, he carries this movie over all Perry's rough patches. And he has a solid match in Union, who for the first time is more than just an extremely pretty face. You also get Louis Gossett Jr. as Monty's boss and mentor.
When I saw this opening Valentine's day next to "Music and Lyrics," I made several snarky comments about how we apparently need seperate but equal romantic comedies. But, as has happened more than a few times in my life, I was wrong.
This really isn't a romantic comedy (in fact, without Madea on hand, it's not much of a comedy at all.) It's just a well-told story about one man struggling with life, and on that level, I liked it immensely.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 3:54 AM