"Diary of a Mad Black Woman" stormed theaters earlier this year, being the first picture to take Will Smith's "Hitch" out of the top spot at the box office with a 21m opening weekend and a final gross of $50m, 10 times the picture's $5m budget. Through a strong promotional campaign that had writer Tyler Perry getting out to all the news outlets for interviews, the picture built up buzz and got the audience out in droves.
The picture starts off with Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) getting a divorce from her husband of 18 years, criminal defense attorney Charles McCarter (Steve Harris). Charles has already got a whole other relationship going, and early in the picture, he's got a car waiting for Helen, who he forces to leave.
Okay, so far the movie plays like a Lifetime drama, although not an entirely horrific one, as Lifetime dramas go. And then...man does it get odd. Helen, seeking some comfort in her time of need, goes back to her grandmother Madea (Tyler Perry, in drag)'s house. So, while the movie was a pretty sincere picture before, suddenly sincere drama is pushed up against loud slapstick, and it's about as bizarre a fight of tones as you're ever going to see in the movies. It's "Big Momma's House", only reimagined for the Oxygen Network.
Meanwhile, Helen doesn't take long before she meets a new man (Shemar Moore) that cares about her and she writes her feelings about the whole situation in a diary (which are written in a rather clunky fashion and heard in voiceover.) The film works best when it's trying for drama, as Elise's just average performance is better in the second half, when it's not as over-the-top. Perry's Madea character offered a couple of minor chuckles, but it does overstay its welcome, and - oddly enough - vanishes suddenly. On the other hand, Harris is rather good as the villain of the piece, while Moore is subtle as Helen's potential new love.
Lastly, the picture is too long at two hours - chopping a good 15 minutes out of this already thin story could have certainly helped to pick up the pace. The picture could have been really terrific, but it certainly missed the opportunity. After Helen gets the boot early on, the picture could have turned into a fantastic remake of "War of the Roses", but instead, it turns into a soapy melodrama (completely with incredibly sappy music)/wacky comedy that goes on and on.
I didn't dislike "Diary" completely and it does have some moments that work. However, the picture's blend of about 5 or 6 genres is done terribly awkwardly, and it really could have worked better at a lean 90-100 minutes.
VIDEO: "Diary" is presented by Lion's Gate in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is generally fine, as the movie looks a tad soft, although it appears that this is an intentional element of the cinematography. No pixelation or edge enhancement was seen, although I did spot a couple of specks on the print used. Colors appeared natural and cleanly presented for the most part, but some minor smearing was spotted once or twice.
SOUND: "Diary" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is certainly a "comedy" mix, with the focus stuck firmly in the forward speakers. Given the material, audio quality is about as good as to be expected, with clear, clean-sounding dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Writer/actor Tyler Perry offers a commentary for the picture. Perry's track is warm and friendly, but I didn't always find it too informative. Although there are some enjoyable insights on his work and the production to be found here, he does go a little too long at points praising the cast and other aspects of the film.
Also included on the DVD are the "Reflections on Diary" featurette, a "making of", outtakes, "Who's Tyler Perry?" featurette, trailers and the trailer for the Tyler Perry collection.
Final Thoughts: "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" hits the target on a couple of occasions with the comedy and drama, but otherwise goes over-the-top on both aspects and doesn't blend the two well. The DVD edition provides some nice supplements and fine audio/video quality. Fans should certainly seek a purchase, but others who are interested should certainly try a rental first.