Earlier this year there was news reported about a remake of The Big Chill planned, specifically altered to become an African American cast. Well, I hate to break it to Regina Ray (the announced producer), but that movie’s already been made. Much like The Big Chill, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? begins its story with the reunion of college friends. Although this reunion isn’t due to a funeral and is an annual gathering for the friends, they still use the time to look at their relationships and where life has taken them. The really bad news is that the concept winds up flat and uninspired a lot of the time. The other production should give up now, because if Tyler Perry can’t make this work, there isn’t much hope for others.
The college friends in particular are four couples, introduced by psychologist Patricia (Janet Jackson) as she tells a college class about her friends and their outing, intended to give them the opportunity to sit back and reflect upon why each couple got married and work out any problems. There’s Terry and Diane (Tyler Perry and Sharon Leal), a pediatrician and lawyer couple who have to cope with Diane spending too much time at work. Mike and Shelia (Richard T. Jones and Jill Scott) are already on the cusp of divorce, due largely to the fact that Mike is an asshole and Shelia is overweight, which is hard for the asshole to take. Another couple copes with the asshole factor: Angela and Marcus (Tasha Smith and Michael Jai White), although in that couple it’s the woman’s turn to be a bitch and Marcus is sleeping around because of it. Finally there’s Patricia’s own relationship with her husband Gavin (Malik Yoba), which is suffering due to the loss of their son who died in a car accident. This time when the four couples get together, relationships explode as secrets are revealed, due mostly to asshole Mike bringing his mistress with him on their vacation.
Previously I’ve been impressed with Tyler Perry’s work because he provides positive role model characters instead of relying on formula and stereotype. I guess having eight central characters proved to be too much for the writer/director/actor, because several of the characters are flat stereotypes that Perry doesn’t seem to know what to do with. Angela and Mike in particular really have no depth. They just keep making sarcastic put-downs and yell a lot. When the story needs something to happen, you can count on Angela to shout out “bitch” or “hoe” and keep things lively. While it does keep things active and provides some of the film’s best punchlines, it also gets old really quickly. As the film’s running time starts feeling long, there comes a desire to see a lot less of these characters.
Although some characters may be flat, there are also a couple of excellent performances. Jill Scott in particular gets some phenomenal screen time. She excellently portrays a woman who has no self-confidence whatsoever. She’s plays meek very well, but through that personality gets some time to shine as her character finally starts finding some self-worth. Janet Jackson and Malik Yoba have a great scene as well, although Jackson’s character suffers from being a psychologist who doesn’t see the simple emotional problems within her own life, which isn’t a fault of the actress. Finally, Perry himself shows why his films are so successful. I’ve never enjoyed Perry as Madea, his cross-dressed grandmotherly alter ego, but here he really shines.
In his picture earlier this year, Daddy’s Little Girls, Perry made excellent use of his camera, allowing for long shots that let the actors take control of a scene (presumably due to all of Perry’s background in theater where you don’t have the option to shape things with a camera). While Why Did I Get Married? does use some longer shots, it doesn’t do it as well, and frequently you’re watching reaction shots instead of being focused on the person speaking. It’s a downgraded use of the camera from Perry’s last film, and particularly harsh because some of the close-up shots feel too close to the subject’s face, as if trying to fill the screen with someone’s face instead of remembering that body language is just as valuable a tool for actors.
I have to admit a bit of disappointment in Why Did I Get Married?. Perry has proven himself to be a great storyteller, but here bland stereotyped characterizations and invasive cinematography mar what could have been an interesting, albeit uninspired idea. Tyler should have pared down his characters and tightened up his script. Most of all, it would have been nice for the film to actually focus on the title question at some point. Instead the question constantly being asked is Why Should I Stay Married, and in some cases, we wish they wouldn’t.
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