Two years ago, the mainstream was introduced to Tyler Perry. The film was "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," and oh my, was it a strange piece of filmmaking, as well as an unexpected success. Last year Perry hustled up nearly the same picture in "Madea's Family Reunion,' a cruddy movie with peculiar social values that solidified the filmmaker as a brand name. This year, Perry tries something a little different: no cross-dressing.
Monty (Idris Elba, "The Gospel") is an overworked car mechanic trying urgently to maintain custody of his three young daughters. Taking work as a driver, Monty meets Julia (Gabrielle Union, "Bad Boys II"), an uptight lawyer with man troubles up the wazoo. When Monty's repellent baby's momma (Tasha Smith) comes calling for custody, with her drug dealer boyfriend in tow, Monty panics and eventually loses his girls. Asking Julia for legal help, the two spark a romance that frustrates Monty and unearths the scorn of Julia's upper-class friends.
At the risk of coming off as a broken record, Tyler Perry might have an audience ready to swallow the Kool-Aid he passes around, but the man can't nail down the intricacies of drama or filmmaking. If this is even possible, "Girls" laps the previous two pictures in obviousness and pandering, turning what was intended as a mild change of pace for Perry into his worst film yet.
Educated in the theater, Perry still believes he needs to pitch his material to the second balcony. "Girls" is a shrill, brazen romantic opus that treats subtlety as some type of cootie, forcing Perry to recoil whenever the film gets within sneezing distance of screenwriting balance and directorial control. The man absolutely refuses to include one moment of honesty or truth in anything he creates. I wonder why he's so terrified of genuine emotion.
"Girls" is a broad melodrama, but one that traffics in stupidity to best endear itself to the potential audience. Like his other films, the story here is so monumentally over-the-top, you can hardly believe your eyes. With the parade of central casting drug dealers, 40-year-old rappers, Gabrielle Union comedic improvisations (you'll want to poke out your eyes during it), kindly old folk pushed around, and sass-mouthed little kids, there's no end to the picture's appetite for inanity. The movie a flat-out cartoon, and it's clear now that Perry doesn't recognize the difference between drama and parody.
Perry's strongest miscalculations are saved for the truly important areas, such as his lead character. Monty is intended as a kindly soul, yet in Perry's crayola writing and Elba's drowsy, crotch-first performance, the man comes off as a common thug. Over the course of the picture, Monty treats his kids as a nuisance, takes lustful advantage of an inebriated Julia, and is revealed to have spent time in prison for rape. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
In the best Tyler Perry fashion, the rape is passed off as inconsequential because the girl is Caucasian and rich. Draw your own conclusion there.
With threadbare cinematography and a spare production design straight out of "Pink Flamingos," careless African-American parental stereotypes, diseased usage of serious topics such a child abuse, and a closing morale that suggests violence is the best medicine for your problems (another reoccurring Perry touch), there's nothing in the film I would consider "inspirational" or "educational," as Perry's sycophants would like his critics to believe these venomous pictures are at their core.
"Daddy's Little Girls" is a frightening step backwards for the Perry empire, revealing a filmmaker who I once thought was just kidding around, but now it turns out he's legitimately incompetent and irresponsible.
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