The latest movie from writer-director Tyler Perry, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, may strike you as being another comedy featuring Perry's big bad old lady Madea. However, Madea has only a small role as comic relief in this melodrama/morality play. The credits tell us that the movie is based on Perry's 2000 play of the same name, but after reading summaries of the play, the two seem to have little in common apart from the title and a moral awakening on the part of the lead characters.
April (Taraji P. Henson) is a mess -- a nightclub singer who rarely sees the light of day, an alcoholic, a woman heavily involved with a married man (Brian White) who pays all her bills. Suddenly, she has three children foisted upon her -- caught trying to break into Madea's house, they confess that the grandmother who has been raising them has gone missing. Madea sends them to Aunt April, who is unwilling to take them but can't find another option. In the meantime, the local church sends April a handyman to help fix her crumbling old house in return for room and board, the optimistic and caring Sandino (Adam Rodriguez). How will April deal with these disruptive people in her life?
It's hard to care about April or anyone else in I Can Do Bad All by Myself because for the first hour, nearly every character is unlikeable if not downright abrasive. I didn't want to spend any more time with these horrible people. Although many of them improve, by the time I left the theater, I felt as though I'd been shouted at by a particularly abrasive preacher for two hours. Perry apparently believes in taking every opportunity in teaching a lesson, and he seems never to have heard of words like "subtext" and "subtle." Everything is on the surface.
I also caught a whiff of the same sexist message that came through in Tyler Perry's earlier film Daddy's Little Girls: single women just can't lead a decent life until they marry a Good Man and get themselves some children to raise, whether those women are successful lawyers or boozy singers. In Perry's movies, everybody needs a supportive and loving spouse, a family, and a healthy church life. Otherwise, you might end up dead, or worse yet, like Madea.
Even the music has to carry some preaching, with all the songs serving as messages to the characters about how they need to improve their lives. If you can get past these blatant messages, however, you might enjoy songs from Mary J. Blige, who plays April's best friend; gospel singer Marvin Winans, who plays the local preacher; and especially Gladys Knight, who plays a church friend of April's mother.
Henson also performs a song in the beginning of the film, and her singing is nearly as good as her acting. Most of the acting in this film is first-rate -- I particularly liked Hope Olaide Wilson as Jennifer, the oldest of the three children -- but the actors are saddled with heavy-handed dialogue. Sandino comes off as the "magical Latino" of the film. Tyler Perry himself shows up to play Madea and her brother Joe. I was hoping for some fun comic moments with Madea, but her character seems to be limited in this film to telling various people all the creative ways in which she'd like to beat them up, which grows tiresome quickly.
I can't agree with the older gentleman sitting in front of me during I Can Do Bad All by Myself, who declared during the movie's one suspenseful scene, "That's a good movie!" although I did agree with him on that single scene (the one with the bathtub). I also got to indulge my love for gorgeous hats in movies during the church scenes -- Knight in particular gets some headgear that would have fit right in at Ascot. But Perry has such a heavy touch with stories and characterization that the whole movie feels like a sermon -- clocking in at nearly two hours, a very long sermon, although with some breaks for good-yet-appropriate music.