It was a good run. Well, maybe "good" isn't the right word for Tyler Perry's run of movies for Lionsgate. The studio decided this month to drop its option to distribute his films, nine years and many "Mad Black" women later.
His steadily eroding box-office appeal would be the reason for that. You've seen the desperation in his recent films, casting a Kardashian here, a Cable Guy there.
Then again, maybe the studio folks had just left a screening of The Single Moms Club, Perry's latest and maybe last picture for them. The movie, which opened last week without screening in advance for critics, is excruciating.
He rounded up a modest cast: Nia Long, Amy Smart, Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids), Cocoa Brown and Zulay Henao as the moms, supported by Perry himself and the unconquerable Terry Crews. He found another way of depicting women as put-upon victims of selfish, greedy, cruel and no-count men, and a reason for empowering them: single motherhood.
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But he is out of laughs, and his heartfelt Oprah-approved sermonettes about every woman deserving a "good man" and the like feel exhausted and played. Perry has made better movies, and perhaps worse ones. But never one as dull as this.
The women all have their kids in an exclusive Atlanta prep school. One (Smart) is a sheltered housewife going through a divorce. Another (Long, recently of The Best Man Holiday) is a working reporter and would-be writer whose little boy's daddy is a never-ending disappointment. A third (McClendon-Covey) is a publishing exec whose career is hampered by the child she had as if adding an accessory. The sassy Waffle House waitress (Brown of For Better or Worse) has a brood of kids, a couple in prison. The Latina in this stew (Henao) has a new man in her life but is controlled by her rich jerk of an ex.
Their kids are going off the rails, so the school hurls them together to plan a dance. They meet, clash cultures, drink wine and get all girl-bonding friendly.
The shared parenting wisdom is deep: "You can't think about it. Just do it. ... You take it one snotty nose and one dirty diaper at a time." And "I raised boys, honey. If you don't break'em early ..."
Perry's wish-fulfillment fantasies are aimed squarely at women, with a little something-something for gay men (shirtless hunks). Here, aside from Crews as a blast of tooth-flashing fun as a suitor to the waitress, the menfolk have even less to do than usual. The women are dressed up and coiffed and made up to the hilt, with the exception of Smart, whose makeup looks as if a child plastered it on. None of the ladies ever look as primped as Perry himself: teeth bleached, nary a whisker out of place on his perfectly trimmed beard.
There's little tragedy, no drama, no emotions at all to this movie.
Without Madea and without any trace of a joke, Lionsgate finally caught up to what audiences have noticed for a while and critics have complained about for years. You can't be a Mad Black Woman when you've grown too rich and happy to wear the dress.