Tyler Perry is fast becoming the black community’s Woody Allen. He’s the New York Yankees, abortion and government-sponsored health care, zealously supported by his followers, hatefully maligned by the rest. Either you’re with him or you’re against him, a bigoted racist unable to appreciate black art or an optimistic Kool Aid drinker all too willing to support anything which can be seen as progressive. It’s an ominous storm cloud of contradictions which hovers over Tyler Perry’s work, a divisive one-way-or-the-other lens you almost can’t help but look through. It lingered over my almost entirely black theater, and I suspect, if you make it out to see Why Did I Get Married Too?, it’ll linger over your theater as well. It’s a shame, really, considering that regardless of which side of the Mason-Dixon line you're on, there’s a lot here to both appreciate and disparage.
Why Did I Get Married Too is the story of four couples and a dude who attend a retreat to catch up with old friends and get their marriages back on track. Terry and Diane (Tyler Perry and Sharon Leal) are the stable couple, a loving, supporting unit both embarrassed by and hopelessly devoted to Terry’s famous sports broadcaster brother Marcus (Michael Jai White) and his excitable, borderline bat shit crazy wife Angela (Tasha Smith). She’s the Nancy. On second thought, maybe they’re both Nancy’s. All four have been friends with Gavin and Patricia (Malik Yoba and Janet Jackson) and Mike and Sheila (Richard T. Jones and Jill Scott) for years; unfortunately, Mike and Sheila are now Troy (Lamman Rucker) and Sheila, but Mike is along as well. And Gavin and Patricia are dangerously close to being Gavin. And Patricia.
Movies like Why Did I Get Married Too tend to abide by formulas, tried and true plot outlines which govern when the big reveals are revealed and when the customary I-still-love-you’s are delivered. Why Did I Get Married Too pisses on those formulas and does whatever the hell it wants, whenever the hell it wants to. This is the movie’s strength. Like p.t. Anderson’s Boogie Nights it winds and twists from the emotionally-wrenching (money problems, infidelity, loss of children) to punch-drunk and giddy (nationally-televised blow-ups, bad lies, shady text messages). And as thus the plot unfolds, an M.C. Esher painting of highs and lows, cancers and make-up trysts. Life at its most unexpected, cinema at its most chaotic.
But amidst all the big reveals, after all the Hollywood glamour is stripped away, Tyler Perry movies, like Martin Scorsese movies, like Wes Anderson movies, are about connecting with characters. They’re about finding the humanity, bonding with that humanity and within a few short hours, learning to care about someone. Why Did I Get Married Too is a film with way too many someones to care about. There’s nine major characters, all of whom are given their own lives. Angela is convinced Marcus is cheating. Sheila is worried about Troy keeping his feelings to himself. Diane has a sudden, bizarre glow about her. Mike regrets the way he treated Sheila. Gavin can’t figure out why Patricia won’t open up. And on and on it goes. A massive labyrinth of problems, not black problems, relationship problems, universal issues we’ve all encountered in significant others. But as the layers are piled on and as the idiosyncrasies are delved into, the sense of humanity, that brutal, un-Hollywood happy ending honesty Tyler Perry seems so desperate to find here gets lost in the back pockets of nine characters fighting for screen time.
Why Did I Get Married Too is a valiant effort. It’s real. It avoids all the usual pitfalls and only succumbs amidst the weight of its own massive scope. I can’t recommend it. It’s too long, it meanders a bit too much, and it never pauses to revel in what it’s trying to create. But damnit does it try. Emotional meltdowns, well-crafted recurrent inside jokes about sports broadcasting, honest depictions of why divorces can so easily go South. There’s an Academy-nominated screenplay inside Tyler Perry somewhere. This isn’t it. In fact, it may take three or four more misses before it comes out, but there’s five or six moments in Why Did I Get Married Too which prove it’s there. About half way through, Louis Gossett Jr. gives a speech about why he loves his wife. She waited for him during the war. He married someone else. She’s clearly still bitter. Eventually, life pushed them back together. Fifty-five years later, they’re still fighting the same fight. Together. It’s a beautiful moment, the type of beautiful moment seen in Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore or the Coen Brothers‘ Raising Arizona. But most people aren’t going to see it because, much as they’ve already decided Woody Allen is a whiny Jew, they've written off Tyler Perry. Tyler Perry is fast becoming the black community’s Woody Allen, and whether deserved or not, that’s a shame.