Sunday, February 18, 2007

Daddy's Little Girls

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.


Caio said...

There's a definite bias at Rotten Tomatoes, and that bias is "I, the reviewer, am an absolute genius."

I find that most of the Rotten Tomatoes reviewers are trying so say more about themselves, and their amazing intellects than they are about the actual movies.

Which is stupid. Christ, they're just fucking movies. Even the smartest movie, is, basically, entertainment. If I want intellectual stimulation, I'll read a fucking journal.

Reel Fanatic said...

Well put, caio, if a bit profane ... I know Tyler Perry movies aren't for everyone, but I think you're right that many people who show up there come in with their own agendas

ryan said...

You, sir, are the people's critic. Sometimes a movie is art. Sometimes a movie is just entertainment.

And a little message to the folks at Rotten Tomatoes, in the immortal words on Sgt. Hulka: "Lighten up, Francis."

As predicted, I ended up seeing Music and Lyrics on Friday. It was OK, the kind of movie you laugh at while watching, then promptly forget.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad it wasn't any more painful than that, Ryan ... I had planned to go see Breach today, but ended up just doing laundry and being lazy

Linda said...

Thank you for recommending this, I saw it today, based on your review. I thought it was a good, solid film, I really enjoyed it. Idris Elba was so good. Don't understand the negative reviews on Rotten ..... guess that's why I go with reviewers I've come to trst. Thanks!

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad I could help, Linda ... I was skeptical about Tyler Perry before I saw "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," but I've been with him ever since then

Philip J. Fry said...

Hi man.. I ran across your site after you left a comment on a good friend of mines blog. Just wanted to say how much I dig your site. Even if I don't agree with you here. I really enjoy what I've been reading from you. Keep it up.

By the way. I saw Ghost Rider this weekend and it was little more than a steaming pile. It made Constantine look like a cinematic masterpiece. At least their is a plethora of interesting/ entertaining looking films on the horizon with Astronaut Farmer, The Number 23, Reno 911, and soon after that a front runner for end of year top 10 lists Black Snake Moan.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for stopping by, Phillip ... I think Billy Bob's rocket movie is gonna be one the surprise big hits of the year ... I'm a sucker for just about anything with rockets in it, and when he relaxes and just plays it funny, Billy Bob can be great

Marina said...

On your good words, I've added this to my queue.

Reel Fanatic said...

I hope it doesn't disappoint, Marina .. Tyler Perry is definitely an acquired taste, but if you go with the vibe, I really do think you'll like it

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