Tyler Perry came to the film world with a fan base he developed over six years as an Atlanta playwright. His first success, reportedly very hard-won, was with the play I Know I’ve Been Changed. This is what he told Scott Bowles of USA Today about it:
[After initial failures elsewhere, the] House of Blues show sold out. “Maybe I visited the right churches,” he says. “Maybe I finally got the word out. But until I die, I’ll believe that when I finally forgave my [previously abusive] father, the Lord blessed the play.”
Mad Black Woman begins with a lavish party in honor of Charles (Steve Harris), the husband of 18 years of Helen (Kimberly Elise). He’s the recipient of Atlanta’s Jacob Frienstein Attorney of the Year Award. Life looks great for Charles and Helen but, as Helen profoundly states, “what looks one way on the outside can be a totally different matter on the inside.” Profound.
Anyway, the statement’s truer than we might initially suspect as we soon find Charles telling Helen to get the hell out of his car. Charles isn’t a good guy at all it turns out, and probably doesn’t deserve any kind of award. Soon, he’s even dragging his mistress (and the two sons he’s had with her) up into the mansion. This is when one of Perry’s three incarnations surfaces in the form of Madea, a no-nonsense, 6½-foot-tall mother to all with a semi-automatic purse pistol. Madea knows when someone has been wronged and knows how to right things. Needless to say, somebody gonna be callin’ da popo.
Unfortunately, Madea rights things with the same chainsaw she shaves with, the same one she uses to hack Diary into its disquieting bipolarity. Madea is such a troublesome character because, while she seems to be a staple for Perry and a great tool for him to reach his audience, she is also so volatile that an otherwise discernible narrative is devastated in her wake.
One might justifiably draw a comparison between Madea’s interruptions and the song sequences that appear in musicals. The difference, at least partially, is one of tone. Lars von Trier manages tonal consistency in Dancer in the Dark just as Bob Fosse does in Chicago. So, let’s say we cut out all the musical numbers from either of those works and just splice in songs from Jesus Christ Superstar. Good idea? It’s easy to imagine Mr. Perry thinking so.
Madea or no Madea, Perry and director Darren Grant are mostly able to get across their story of self-discovery, forgiveness, and Jesus faith. If you’re into that sort of thing, give this a watch. If you’re interested in the filmic possibilities of multiple personality disorder, this may also be a good fit for you.