Diary of a Mad Black Woman

After 18 years of marriage, Helen (Kimberly Elise, “Woman, Thou Art Loosed”) finds herself out on the street when her snake-like lawyer husband (Steve Harris, in a career-killing performance) wants a divorce. Broken, Helen takes herself into the ghetto to her Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry) for moral support. Under Madea’s roof, Helen slowly rebuilds her life, romancing a factory worker (Shemar Moore) in the process. However, when her husband comes calling again, Helen must decide what is truly best for her life.

It is hard to deny the energy and sheer enthusiasm that “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” generates. The film is a massive audience picture, milking every possible screen moment for the most uproarious way to manipulate its intended viewership. The brainchild of playwright Tyler Perry, “Mad Black Woman” finally makes its way to movie screens after roaring across the American south as a theatrical production, minting money wherever it went. It’s tough to argue with results like this. “Mad Black Woman” certainly does have a following.

However, should the popularity and audience-pleasing crutch the production rests upon excuse it from abysmal filmmakingr Perry, who writes, scores, stars (in three roles), and finances the film, oddly doesn’t make that final leap to direct the picture. He leaves that to first-time filmmaker Darren Grant, who is clueless on how to pitch this material. While Perry doesn’t help matters by cramming about nine different movies into this one effort, Grant doesn’t know where to begin telling these stories no matter the number. The film starts off wildly comedic, as if Redd Foxx’s subconscious was finally made available for the world to see. As Madea, Helen’s “big momma” mother figure, Perry gives himself all the massive comic moments, fashioning himself a character with the best comebacks, reactions, and when those fail, brandishes a handgun she keeps in her purse. The first 45 minutes of the film are devoted to Madea’s wild world of sassmouth and life lessons, starting off the film on a crazy note of boisterous, if familiar, urban audience fun.

Where Grant falls into trouble is in his inability to downshift the story into the other 10 genres it touches upon, including romantic comedy, drama, and even a touch of a revenge story. “Mad Black Woman” soon becomes entangled in its own narrative web, allowing all the liveliness of the piece to drain out slowly, leaving its obnoxious tendency to grandstand seem all the more aggressive. Even more curious is the film’s message about God and its loving powers to heal all wounds, yet contains a sequence where Helen beats her newly paralyzed husband (don’t ask) up for his past crimes, while he sits helplessly in his wheelchair. I’m not convinced any higher power would condone that behavior. Yet it’s there, like many similar moments, just so Perry can make sure the audience is on his side, regardless if it means conjuring up some seriously vile material.

An odd companion piece to last year’s dreadful production, “Woman, Thou Art Loosed,” “Mad Black Woman” might not be short of energy or plot, but it fails to form a sturdy spiritual or narrative spine to hang all of its ideas off of. The picture is merely content to be scattershot, leaving the audience with the burden of maintaining a church-appropriate patience to appreciate the small charms to be found in Perry’s berserk creation.

Rating: D+