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I Can Do Bad All By Myself

Other // PG-13 // January 12, 2010
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted January 27, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
It's taken Tyler Perry eight years, several films, and a truckload of cash to finally figure it out. Forget the manipulative melodramatic and rote first year film school screen storylines. Ignore the need for realistic portrayals of black urban life. Disregard dimensional characterization while embracing the cartoonish and the cliché. Just give the audience more Madea and more music and they'll walk out of the theaters happy. That was clearly the case with the cobbled together collection of previous Perry riffs known as I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Abandoning the narrative threads established in the play of the same name, the Oprah of the Orpheum settles in for some orphaned kids/unsympathetic relative histrionics, the typical "men are major league pigs" plot sub-points, and graces the whole thing with enough raise the roof off the sucker singing to turn even the most devout atheist over toward God. Add in the gun-toting granny with the rapper's attitude and you got a filmmaking formula to milk for as long as the demo buys the commercial cash cow.

The Plot:
April (Taraji P. Henson) is a nightclub torch singer with a drinking problem. One day, a mad as a hatter Mabel "Madea" Simmons (Tyler Perry) shows up at her door with some kids in tow. Seems the busy body battleaxe found the children looting her home, and with no other kinfolk to care for them, Aunt April must step up and play guardian. Naturally, this gives the angry alcoholic fits, especially since her married boyfriend Randy (Brian J. White) wants nothing to do with brats of any kind.

Soon, the local church is getting involved, with Pastor Brian (Marvin Winans) and Ms. Wilma (Gladys Knight) offering advice. Even April's bartender buddy Tanya (Mary J. Blige) thinks she should step up and take responsibility. Of course, our heroine fights against such sentiment - that is, until Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) a hunky handyman in need of a place to stay takes up residence in her spare room. With his calming, caring presence, April actually believes she might have a future, no matter what Randy, or the bottle, says.

The DVD:
There are two amazing things about I Can Do Bad All By Myself, one of which is so stellar and surprising that it's a wonder studio suits don't sit up and take notice of its power. All throughout this otherwise routine kitchen sink story, as April kvetches about "them kids" and Randy raises his fist in blatant black man stereotyping, Tyler Perry digresses. He takes the narrative and derails it by giving a collection of amazing voices an opportunity to be heard. The visceral Mary J. Blige belts out the title track in such a dominating manner that you half suspect the celluloid of giving up, acknowledging that nothing it has to offer can beat such a soulful musical maelstrom. Gladys Knight does one better, delivering a solemn hymnal homage that caresses her singular sultry approach. But the real barn burner here is the gospel gonzo of Marvin Winans. It takes a lot to steal a storyline for seven straight minutes, delivering a combination sermon and aural assault that leaves you breathless and believing. The use of music in this movie is just astonishing, arguing that Perry, not some putz named Marshall, should be bringing the latest Broadway hits to the big screen (can someone say a remake of The Wiz???)

The second thing that I Can Do Bad All By Myself has going for it is the work of its creator as the craggy old comic relief known as Madea. After all the arguments about drag acts and their effectiveness, outside of the controversy that still considers this man in matron's clothing about as close to a minstrel show as an African American auteur can get, there is no denying Perry's comfort level when playing the role. This gives Madea's line readings a real resonance, a humorous appeal that may not validate the approach, but definitely softens the blow. Just when you think Perry can't come up with something new or novel, he lets the house coat wearing harpy loose on the current pop culture trends and the laughter arrives in abundance. Like Mr. Brown, the brilliant bumbling fashion victim of various Perry productions, Madea is meant to be nothing more than the audience's voice, speaking out from the cheap seats and setting things right within the storyline. This time around, she definitely delivers.

As for the rest of I Can Do Bad All By Myself, it's about time to retire the whole "cheating dogs/victimized gal" concept, don't you think? It's more than ancient, and really fails to mean much in a society which sees skanks line up for a chance to date douche bag losers as part of some VH-1 reality show. Perry may think he's manufacturing meaningful morality tales here, but does ever dude on planet Earth have to be either a sinner or a saint. There are no subtle shades here, no attempt to bring a sense of complexity to the characters. For their part, the ladies don't earn that much more respect. Instead, they mostly thrive in a Lifetime made-for-TV tendency to make bad marital decisions, struggle under the ample weight of single (or unexpected) motherhood, and relegate all realities to a personal abuse punchline. Since he is setting up each movie/play/TV series as a means of getting his 'jump for Jesus' ideals up and running wild, Perry can be excused for repetition. After all, there are only so many ways to get a "good vs. evil" point across. As long as he buffers things with a combination of song and silliness, this is one director who can continue to get away with it. I Can Do Bad All By Myself is clearly Tyler Perry's best film. Oddly enough, he's only responsible for half of its success.

The Video:
As usual, Lionsgate does a decent job with the DVD transfer. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is solid and full of detail. The nightclub scenes have a smoky, seductive quality that is expertly captured by the image, and the exterior sequences are bright and crisp. Perry is not the most illustrative of directors, so his visuals don't come across as striking, just polished and professional.

The Audio:
Since music is the most important element in this movie, Lionsgate steps up and delivers an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that really rocks the home theater. All of the major song set-pieces come across with a full range of dynamic power, while the dialogue and quieter moments are recreated with crystal clarity. There is a two channel Stereo option available, but stick with the multichannel presentation. It's the best way to experience I Can Do Bad All By Myself's sonic strengths.

The Extras:
As usual, Perry's DVD packaging is paltry, to say the least. No commentary track. No full blown cast and crew Q&As. Instead, we get fawning EPKs centering on the movie's making ("A Soulful Ensemble"), the songs and singers in the movie ("The Power of Music") and the last minute addition of a Mary J. Blige performance ("Tyler's Block Party"). Speaking of the filmmaker, he is all but absent here. Perhaps the result of too many irons in the entertainment fire?

Final Thoughts:
Great, artful singing is a real rarity in these days of auto-tune mock American idleness. Just getting the chance to hear Mary J. wail, Gladys give it her all, and Marvin shake the heavens is enough to warrant advocating I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Granted, if you've seen one Tyler Perry title you've seen everything he has to offer and if that strident strumpet Madea doesn't float your comedy boat, nothing the saucy septuagenarian does here will win you over. Still, those singers....sigh, how wonderful they are. As a result, a begrudging Recommended rating is awarded, acknowledging that, of all his films, this is probably Perry's most accomplished. It's definitely his most consistent, his most calculated, and his most commercial. One could easily see non-fans warming to its sincere sonic glow. How much of that is the man, and how much of it is the music, remains to be seen.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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