Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Madea Challenge! Part One: Diary Of A Mad Black Woman

So I have this podcast thing. It's called The Dirty Sons Of Pitches, and among other topics, we talk about movies we like, and perhaps more often, movies we hate. Last year, I devised a sort of recurring game for the show called The Madea Challenge, whereupon anyone proven wrong in an argument had on the show would be forced to watch every single Madea movie. This proved somewhat unwieldy, so it has since been replaced with something we now call The Streaming Steaming Netflix Challenge, whereupon the challenger must watch a terrible movie on Netflix picked by the loser of the last challenge (as of this writing, technically the movie to watch is still The Tooth Fairy 2 starring Larry The Cable Guy). Ever since we moved on from the Madea Challenge, something's been nagging at me, and unfortunately for me in retrospect, I recently figured out what it was.

You can't let something like The Madea Challenge just go to waste. Maybe it doesn't quite work for a podcast, but someone's gotta take up that gauntlet, right? I mean, Tyler Perry keeps making these movies, and snarky internet assholes like myself always make fun of them sight unseen, based purely on the cliches we've built from the years of seeing movie trailers for them. It stands to reason that one of us would be brave enough to actually take them all on, to see what all the box office fuss is about, and confirm once and for all if the Madea franchise is really as godawful as it would appear to be from the outside. For some ungodly reason that I'm now already regretting having only watched one of them, I've decided that that person is me.

Shoot me now Madea, get it over with.

The next eight entries in this series won't necessarily be reviews as such. While I will talk about what I think of each film and whether or not I can recommend it, or for what audience I could recommend it, I plan for these to be a bit more free form, chronicling my immediate reactions, good and bad, in something as close to a stream of consciousness as I can muster in long form essay blogging. And I want to point out for the record that I come at this with no preconceptions, with no reason to think that one or more of these films can't be good. This isn't just going to be me bitching about movies I already decided I hated before I even watched them, and I will try to be as fair as I can be. I'm starting with the eight theatrical films, and if I have the strength, I'll move on to the stage productions for a volume II. So, with all that said, read on after the jump for Part One: Diary Of A Mad Black Woman.

Madea Level One: Diary Of A Mad Black Woman

The first theatrical movie featuring the Madea character surprisingly enough has her in a supporting role. Maybe other people knew this, but having never seen any of these films and only knowing about her wacky persona from the trailers, I always assumed that the mad black woman of the title was a reference to Perry's famous gun toting grandmother. In fact, the main focus of this first story is on a young woman forced to put her life back together after a divorce, seeking the aid of Madea in her time of crisis. As crazy as it sounds, I think this is the major problem of this movie, as the only character I'm ever capable of giving even a little shit about is Madea, and as she continuously fades into the background, I'm forced to sit through some frankly unbearable melodrama.

That's not to say that Madea or any of the characters portrayed by Perry are that effective, humorously or otherwise, just that compared to everything else in the movie, they are the only things even remotely interesting or engaging. The problem is that our protagonist is just so damn unlikable. I am inclined to be somewhat sensitive under the circumstances, as not being a woman and having never been divorced, or in love with someone who destroyed my self esteem, I can't speak to what one might consider normal behavior in her situation. I get that woman can fall in love with terrible men who are bad for them, and that they can construct their lives around this love in such a way that it pulls the rug out from under them when it inevitably ends badly, but there's something to be said for grace under pressure. After telling his wife that he's cheating on her, has two children with another woman, and is kicking her out of the house and leaving her with nothing, the husband still has to drag her out kicking and screaming by her hair. I'm not saying don't be angry and hurt, but don't collapse into a ball of sad. Either get even, move on, or both!

The character is just so unrealistically fragile and, quite frankly, stupid to care about. If the husband's role in the story had ended there, it would be one thing, but she keeps holding out hope for the relationship, taking him back in when he's injured and refusing to accept the love of a clearly better man because of this attachment that should mean nothing to her after the first ten minutes of the movie. And the movie wants to make this out to be a moral strength, as if a marriage built on lies and pain is ever worth preserving. In the end, she makes what should have been the obvious right choice and finalizes the divorce, but only after literally saving his life despite him never repenting for anything, which is noted as a function of Christian forgiveness, but comes across as pathological. And apparently in the original play, she even goes back to the motherfucker! That Tyler Perry has a reputation for presenting strong women in his movies is mystifying at this point, because this woman is easily the worst example of one I've ever seen in a movie, bar none.

Oh, and when I say she does her Christian duty (a notion made explicit in the film by the way), I should point out that Diary takes a bizarre detour during this recuperative phase for her to basically mentally torture her husband while he's in a wheelchair. You're probably thinking I would applaud this given how weak she is otherwise in the movie, and normally I would if the film had actually taken this element to its logical conclusion and allowed her to find some measure of self worth through retributive justice, but that's not what its about. Even though everything she does at this point of the movie is completely justified and in fact soft considering what the guy actually deserves, apparently it means she's letting him win by not being able to forgive him. FUCK THAT! If torturing this motherfucker is letting him win, then she should have let him win the game of love with a baseball bat shoved up his crippled ass!

The messages of this movie are all over the place and seem to encourage all the wrong things. Everyone around her keeps reinforcing this notion that I guess because she's not technically divorced yet, even though she's homeless and penniless thanks to her husband, that somehow she is still responsible for him and his bullshit until that paper is finally signed. When she casually mentions another man in her life, the wise old grandmother played by Cicily Tyson scolds her for trying to open a door before the other one is closed. Of course, the old bitch is only at Madea's house to give this advice because that old door of an ex-husband stopped paying the bill to keep her in the retirement home after he literally dragged her granddaughter out of their house and left her with nothing so he could raise another woman's kids. Fuck all of these people.

And the movie is suffused with this Christian ethic that just seems weird, culty, and decidedly un-Christian as I understand the religion. People talk about Jesus in this movie like he's some magical wizard that they can invoke to make all of their problems easier to deal with, whether they actually take any positive action towards that goal or not. For some reason, when our main character's shitty marriage to this shitty man who should die in a fire is concerned, forgiveness is paramount and the only way she can be happy is by letting go of her baggage. This would be fine if it was consistent, but then in a subplot with another character played by Perry, a drug addicted mom seeks forgiveness for her broken life (which she at least has some legitimate excuse for), only to be completely rebuffed, but in this case, that's the right thing to do. I'm not saying one or the other way is right or wrong in every case, as the real world is infinitely complex and I wouldn't presume to make judgements on situations I don't know about, but this movie's world deals in absolutes, and contradictory ones at that.

This all culminates in a raucous church gathering with a gospel choir that literally cures the asshole husband of his paralysis so that he can walk again. I'm not fucking kidding. That happens. We end with faith healing! I guess the lesson is that no matter how bad things are, or whether or not we actively do anything to make our lives better, everything's good in the end because Jesus. The druggie mom is shamed into going to rehab, the divorce goes through, and the far too patient good boyfriend finally gets the girl in an ending ripped from An Officer And A Gentleman, hooray. Oh, and the guy who doesn't deserve to have good things happen to him can walk again, presumably back into the loving arms of his formerly secret second family, or perhaps some other floozy he had on the side.

And what of Madea herself. Well, as strange as it sounds, she's probably the single best part of the movie. The few times I genuinely laughed unironically were because of her, and while her moral center was as completely skewed as everyone else, at least she has the excuse of being eccentric. I gather that many of the other movies in this series feature her character more predominantly, and I can only assume at this point that this trend, if true, marks an improvement. Don't get me wrong, her schtick gets old real fast, but in a movie so devoid of entertaining respite, you have to take what you can get. Would the world be a better place if Tyler Perry had never seen the remake of The Nutty Professor and not been inspired to make an uninspiring series of Klumps ripoffs? With one of these under my belt, I'm inclined to say emphatically yes, but since I've gotta watch them anyway, I have to admit that I would much prefer their freakishly exaggerated hijinks to any of the "well adjusted" characters we're supposed to identify with.

In closing, One down, Seven to go,  Urge to kill...rising.
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