If there is one weak spot in Tyler Perry's continuing climb to total media domination, it's been that his cinematic efforts have not been as warmly received as his stage plays. Don't misunderstand, his movies still make a lot of money, and when compared to other African American filmmakers, Perry is one of the most profitable. But when compared to the original stories he sold as part of his urban crusade, much of the material has been marginalized to say the least. The Gospel inspired songs are gone, as are the unique ensemble element of each production. In their place have been a mainstream ideal of entertainment, with everything from Diary of a Mad Black Woman to Madea's Family Reunion suffering as a consequence. The same can be said for his latest adaptation - Why Did I Get Married? Even with its all-star cast, this cinematic variation strays a little too far from the original theatrical experience.
It's time for the annual friends vacation, and the former classmates of a traditional black university are prepared for the worst. Celebrity self-help superstar Patricia will lead the retreat, but lingering issues with architect husband Gavin may destroy its chances for success. An alcohol fueled Angela won't help, especially with the way she browbeats her harried husband Marcus. Big time attorney Diane is also at wits end with her spouse Terry. As a successful pediatrician, he finds time for family and friends. She's too busy to care. Add to this the fate of Shelia. Overweight and overwrought, she's dealing with a critical cad in her man Mike. Besides, he's sleeping with her newfound friend Trina. Secrets sitting beneath the surface are soon revealed, and when they come to the light, these couples will face some major personal predicaments. They may be so bad that they end up asking Why Did I Get Married?
Why Did I Get Married? is probably the least impressive of Tyler Perry's films, and when you consider that Daddy's Little Girls was a minor piffle at best, that's major criticism indeed. It's not that the message is omitted, or that, as a director, he misses the mark more than he achieves his aims. It's just that, when compared to the original play and the cast he collected there, this big screen version is rather shallow. It substitutes famous faces (Janet Jackson, Jill Scott) in roles that fail to utilize their true talents (singing) while expanding the characters to include current Perry concerns like STDs, AIDS, and careerism. Indeed, a great deal of Why Did I Get Married? plays like a 'barefoot and pregnant' mandate for women pursuing their professional goals. While Perry would never be so blatant (or pigheadedly blind), we do learn that Diane and her doctor hubby Terry would be much happier if she'd just get off the rat race fast track. It's an equally important lesson for the drunkard Angela and her put upon slacker spouse Marcus to understand. He needs to "be a man". She needs to step back and stop acting like a harpy. Traditional roles forged under the holy Bible seem to be the balm that cures all matrimonial ills.
Similarly, Perry takes a simplistic approach to his characters' issues. When couples cheat, it's because they've failed to maintain adequate communication - that, or the man is just a plain old dog and the woman a streetwalking whore. Youth and superficial materialism is mocked and the notion of being humble but proud overrides most discussions. Perry does work in some rather sketchy racial stereotypes. While he might call it "accurately reflecting the community", his men are all pigs and his women mostly strident shrews. In this version of his social structure, Patricia gets the 'physician, heal thyself' treatment, Marcus earns a dose - and a healthy lecture - for straying from his vows, Terry almost loses his family because he can't compromise with Diane, and Angela's hot temper brings out the worst in everyone. Of course, the main storyline centers on chunky Sheila and her insensitive lout of a spouse Mike. He's the king of the inappropriate fat joke. She's the trusting homemaker who takes the abuse and continues to call him 'honey'. As played by Scott, this cipher of a woman is supposed to earn our sympathy, and she eventually does. But the singer turned actress underplays it so that we barely feel the emotional bond. On stage, Cheryl "Pepsi" Reilly really sold this part. In the movie, it's just an ancillary element.
In fact, this may be the biggest flaw in all of Why Did I Get Married? The original play had an old wise comic coot named Poppy, a far more pro-Christian angle (though there's still a lot of God here and there) and substantially less melodrama. There was no liquor laced Angela or Marcus, no best selling self-help psychologist or perturbed pediatrician. It appears that, in Madea's Family Reunion style, Perry has opened up the narrative, believing that additional characters and crisis makes his movies more cinematic. He couldn't be more misguided. The overstuffed quality of Why Did I Get Married? means too many people populate too little material, rendering some of their issues inconsequential at best. It also makes the relatively rapid settlement of the problems - using Band-aid like solutions such as "80/20" and "Lists of Pros and Cons" - appear creaky and comical. There is still a lot to like about this movie - the performances are uniformly good, and the positivity promoted is a welcome relief from all the negativism inherent in the post-modern drama. But those expecting a literal translation of Perry's play will be greatly disappointed. Why Did I Get Married? has received a relatively unnecessary cinematic make-over, and the scars still show.
On the technical side of things, Lionsgate delivers a delightful DVD presentation. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is beautiful--clean and crisp with gorgeous color correction and a rich depth of detail. Colorado and its surrounding small town settings have never looked better than in this engaging, atmospheric transfer.
The sound is equally good, though there is no real difference between the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. In fact, when music isn't involved, both aural offerings deliver decipherable dialogue and superb spatial ambiance.
As for added content, Lionsgate goes light on the bonus material. There are three featurettes, each one focusing on a different aspect or individual involved in the production. The first one offers Janet Jackson in a Q&A. The next reflects on the film itself. The final mini-documentary discusses the use of music in the movie. While it would have been nice to hear Perry deliver a full length audio commentary covering all aspects of the project - especially the decision to more or less reimagine the entire narrative - these minor extras will have to do.
If you liked Daddy's Little Girls, Madea's Family Reunion, or Diary of a Mad Black Woman, it's clear you will enjoy Why Did I Get Married? Perry definitely preaches to the already converted, and if you're not part of his noted number, you'll probably wonder what all the hoopla is about. But it's clear that in a standard, superficial way, Perry knows how to deliver the entertainment goods. This uneven version of his superior stage play earns a solid Recommended rating. It's not the best example of the man's work, but it won't waste your time either. In the end, the title question isn't really answered. Instead, Perry is looking toward a more involving inquiry - why should you get married. If relationships are as desperate or predestined as the ones shown here, matrimony appears to be a fool's paradise. Luckily, we have an amiable guide through the rougher bits - and his name is Tyler Perry.
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