It's remarkable to witness how the film industry evolves with marketplace changes and the introduction of innovations, but there is one thing that we can always rely on: if a movie doesn't screen for critics prior to its release, you can all but guarantee it's a remarkable stinker. Reviews are the easiest way for any feature to get publicity and exposure, so there is no reason to avoid them... unless a studio is concerned the reaction will be so bad it stops audiences from attending screenings.
This is a bad black mark to wear, and sadly, it's one that actress Taraji P. Henson has worn twice already in 2018. First there was the dull, lifeless Proud Mary back in January, and now we have Acrimony -- the new romantic drama from writer/director Tyler Perry. And if you haven't figured it out by now, this new film is not the one that totally shatters preconceived notions about movies not screened for critics. It's actually exactly as bad as you think it is, poorly implementing what is actually an interesting premise -- failing to earn any of the twists and turns it presents, and wasting the legitimate talent involved with the production.
The non-linear story centers on Melinda Gayle (Taraji P. Henson), whose entire identity is wrapped up in scorn. Forced to attend anger management sessions, she tells a counselor the story of her relationship with her ex-husband, Robert (Lyriq Bent) -- which began during college shortly after the death of her mother. Robert is an ambitious inventor, determined to create a new kind of battery, but his work forces Melinda to support him, and doing so forces her to spend her entire inheritance on him. Only making the situation worse is that he cheats on her with another woman -- leading to an incident that changes her life dramatically. Her sisters insist that she kick him to the curb, but she instead decides to stand by him.
As the story progresses, it is meant to force a shift in perspective, with the audience forced to question whether or not Melinda is a reliable narrator. Regrettably, I have to say "is meant to" because of Acrimony's failed execution of this central idea. While tricky to discuss without fully diving into spoilers, the reality is that anything meant to be subtle in the first half of the film is painted with a ridiculously bold brush, which totally undercuts any kind of intended progression in the narrative. The idea is that you're supposed to be on Melinda's side at the start and then eventually question that initial impression -- but Tyler Perry makes the character so unlikable and the story so mild that the development becomes nullified.
Also worth mentioning is the extreme tone deafness that the movie demonstrates in our current societal climate. Humanity is in the midst of seeing formerly powerless women rightly stand up and fight back against abuses and endless mistreatment from men, but Acrimony feels like it operates in direct contrast to that movement. It's legitimately the literal opposite, with the pained and angry woman painted as being irrational and uncontrollably emotional, and the man being a little bit flawed but ultimately a candidate for sainthood. This isn't to say that this is a totally off-limits narrative, but the ignorance of the modern context in which the film is being released was certainly on my mind as the story unfolded -- and it's a bad look.
The unfortunate victim in all of this, as implied, is really Taraji P. Henson -- who is a performer far better than the material she's been performing on the big screen in 2018. If the movie written lived up to the concept, Melinda would certainly be a great role to play, as a nimble script would allow for understated evolution of the character, allowing it to become even more and more fascinating on rewatch. But Tyler Perry doesn't prove up to that task. Melinda starts as a protagonist who is angry and endlessly rough around the edges -- with none of it translating as "powerful" or even "interesting" -- and it all ends so pulpy and crazy that it's impossible to take any of it seriously (even when Henson is clearly trying to really bring it).
Compared to, say, Boo! A Madea Halloween, Acrimony actually had a bit of promise -- but it's even more of a disappointment because of the fact that it lives up to absolutely none of it. And while the sun hasn't set on Taraji P. Henson's time as a leading lady, choosing scripts like this one is doing nothing but hurting her cause. Hopefully she'll be able to turn things around in 2018 with the movies she has lined up to come out between now and December, but considering another one of those titles is another Tyler Perry movie, chances are probably not worth betting on.