With Tyler Perry's latest movie Good Deeds hitting theaters this weekend, we decided to take a look at why audiences love his movies so much. The guinea pig would be me, a Tyler Perry newbie who had always been curious as to why this guy was so successful.
In the interest of time, I selected seven films from his ever-expanding catalog of movies. The movies are listed in the order in which I watched them.
The Plot: Written and directed by Perry, the film is actually a play shot at a theater in Atlanta. The story focuses on a diverse group of tenants living in an inner-city apartment building struggling with family, employment and money issues. In the end, the neighbors come together in hopes for a brighter tomorrow. The title alludes to keeping your faith when times get rough and features rousing intermittent gospel songs.
The Good: Palmer Williams Jr. gets some really solid laughs and delivers his punch lines with good comedic timing. Perry, who makes a cameo appearance at the end of the play, says that he is determined to make Williams a star. Cheryl Pepsii Riley and Chandra Currelle-Young also deliver strong supporting performances and the 20-minute Motown/soul karaoke performances to close the slow are enjoyable.
The Bad: The dialogue and storylines are pretty mundane and some of the smaller parts are over-acted, even for a theatrical performance. Also annoying was how the actors kept breaking into gospel songs throughout the film, just when I was starting to get into the story. Granted, Perry isn't targeting 30-year-old Asian-Americans with this movie, but some of the songs really weren't necessary and made the film feel way longer than it actually was.
The Plot: In this sequel to the 2007 movie Why Did I Get Married?,four couples find themselves struggling to save their marriages once again. Meanwhile, I try desperately to stay awake and pay attention to some of the most mundane, cardboard storylines and dialogue in cinematic history.
The Good: The scenery of the Bahamas in the first half of the movie got me thinking about going there later this year. Way to go Bahamas Tourism Agency! Janet Jackson gives a good performance and Malik Yoba is pretty solid, though it's kind of sad to see how far he's fallen since New York Undercover. Oh, and the out-of-the-blue cameo appearance (no, I’m not telling) at the very end was pretty cool.
The Bad: Watching this movie makes you wonder just how much time Perry actually spends writing his scripts. With an average of about three movies a year that he writes, produces, directs and stars in, that can't leave much time for re-writes and multiple drafts. I bet if he took the time and spent a year on one movie, it might actually be something worth watching.
The Plot: Tyler Perry adapts Ntozake Shange's play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. The movie features seven women performing a collection of 20 poems over a series of vignettes.
The Good: Well, I suppose it hits the themes of female empowerment and delivers what the title suggests, being geared toward "colored girls." I suppose if the movie were titled For Asian-American Men and we were working strictly within the confines of Perry's stereotypical story templates, there would be a bunch of cute Asian idols singing and dancing while giant anime robots battled the One Piece crew with cameos from Bleach, Dragon Ball and Naruto characters. And they'd all finish the movie eating sushi and drinking bowls of miso soup and green tea. That been said, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose and Kimberly Elise give decent performances and the rape scene still haunts me.
The Bad: The poems are these long, eloquent monologues, which are powerful and beautifully acted. But within the context of the movie, it's jarring to go from conversational dialogue to all of a sudden launch into purple prose. Also, Thandie Newton is gratingly annoying and Janet Jackson just doesn't quite fit her role.
The Plot: In what amounts to his first mass-marketed film (and by that, I mean Perry isn't just targeting the African-American/gospel community) in the titles I've watched, two families from different walks of life learn to work together.
The Good: Really good performances, especially Alfre Woodard as she and Kathy Bates head out on a cross-country Thelma and Louise-esque road trip, minus the whole wanted-by-authorities storyline. Granted, we're not talking Academy Award caliber stuff here, but the chemistry between Woodard and Bates is undeniable. The movie also re-affirmed that I can watch Sanaa Lathan in absolutely anything, even when she's playing a cold-hearted bitch.
The Bad: Three films in,I've resigned myself to the fact that there's going to be familiar archetypes in Perry's movies. Cheating spouse, check. Failing marriage, check. Character who suddenly reveals they have a terminal illness, check. What kept me from nodding off this time was the acting, even though at times it felt like I was watching a daytime soap opera. Plus, I was able to pretend that I was one of the Mystery Science Theater guys, ad-libbing punch lines throughout various scenes.
The Plot: The 107-year-old patriarch of the Brown family dies and his family (unfortunately) gets together for the funeral.
The Good: Madea is only mentioned in dialogue and not actually seen.
The Bad: I have a new most hated movie of all-time and it is the bland, boring, two-hour plus exercise in tedium known as Meet the Browns. The plot is so razor thin, the acting so irritating, that I was tempted to hit the eject button, douse the disc in gasoline and torch it from existence. At the end, Perry addresses the audience, making the audacious statement that, "God has been too good to me for me to sell out for millions," while he pitches his merchandise to the crowd and promotes his next film as well as his band leader's book. Insert colorful expletive followed by Perry's name and let's move on to the final two films.
The Plot: A mechanic enlists the help of a successful but lonely attorney while trying to get custody of his three daughters from his irresponsible ex-wife and her criminal boyfriend.
The Good: Yes, the plot is pretty pedestrian and the story unfolds in the usual predictable manner that Perry dramas have done thus far. But HOLY EXPLETIVE, Idris Elba lifts this movie up to the point where I didn't mind one bit and his added chemistry with Gabrielle Union was a pleasure to watch. The payoff comes in a heart-wrenching scene toward the end with his three daughters after they run away from their mom, played with hissy menace by Tasha Smith.
The Bad: I'm convinced this is the best Perry can do, drama-wise, although if you can suggest a better film of his, I'll be more than happy to check it out. Well, after a two-week Tyler Perry detox, that is. On now to my final Perry film, otherwise known as my one and only experience with Madea.
The Plot: Following the funeral for her sister, Madea must prepare for her granddaughter Lisa's upcoming marriage. In the process, she must contend with her dysfunctional relatives and her crazy neighbor, Leroy Brown. The version I watched was the stage play, not the feature film from 2006.
The Good: So Madea isn't as annoying as you might imagine. Granted much of the rapid-fire nasally dialogue essentially focuses on guns, drugs and sex, but Perry does manage to ad-lib some funny one-liners, including the ugly baby bit and the confrontations with David Mann's Leroy Brown. And the "big bag of Skittles" line lobbed at Madea was pretty funny.
The Bad: According to IMDb this is where it all began. While the play isn't as annoying as I thought it would be, it still wasn't very entertaining, save for those few punch lines mentioned above. It also seemed like the actors were mostly ad-libbing, which would be fine if Perry wasn't jumping in constantly with jokes that only he thought were funny and often would send him doubled over in laughter.
In Conclusion: There are two types of Tyler Perry movies; the inner-city drama that focuses on infidelity, parental neglect and terminal disease, and then there's the slapstick comedy that, in stage play form, takes on an added gospel element but nonetheless focuses on infidelity and parental neglect and though no one gets a terminal illness, there are still the pitfalls of drug abuse, domestic violence and employment and money issues. As evidence with Daddy's Little Girls and to a lesser extent The Family That Preys, good acting can make these movies watchable, but ultimately the bland storylines and clichéd character conflicts hinder the films from being good. Three days removed, I still feel like Daddy's Little Girls had the potential to be something really amazing.
Perry has a stage play that is currently in post-production (The Marriage Counselor starring Kim Kardashian and Brandy) and has begun filming his latest Madea caper—starring a mostly white cast—Madea's Witness Protection, due out this winter. Will I be watching those movies or this weekend's Good Deeds? Perhaps, but first I need to take a break and indulge in a Jackie Chan marathon with a side of Donnie Yen's Ip Man series. If I'm going to watch clichés, I might as well be entertained, right?