By Leroy Douresseaux
October 4, 2009 - 09:29
One could make the argument that every Tyler Perry movie seems to be made from the same stencil or template. There are the good women and the bad men they love (Madea’s Family Reunion). There are also the good men and the troubled women they try to save (Madea Goes to Jail). And there are always those who need to go back to church because they don’t know which way is up (Daddy’s Little Girls). Of course, there is usually room for the unsinkable matriarch Madea, and her brother and housemate, the un-politically correct, Joe. Perry’s new film, I Can Do Bad All by Myself (based upon his play) distills the essence of Perry’s oeuvre into its most perfect form to date.
After the pistol-packing Madea (Tyler Perry) catches three siblings breaking into her home, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Madea marches 16-year-old Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson) and her two younger brothers, Manny (Kwesi Boakye) and Byron (Frederick Siglar), to the only relative she can find – their Aunt April (Taraji P. Henson), a hard-living, heavy-drinking nightclub singer. April lives off her married boyfriend, Randy (Brian J. White). Already having several children of his own, Raymond doesn’t want April’s niece and nephews around, and April certainly doesn’t think her dead crackhead sister’s children are her problem.
Fate, however, brings Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) into April’s life. The handsome Mexican immigrant is looking for work, so the local Pastor Brian (Marvin Winans) asks April to allow Sandino to move into her basement room in exchange for doing handiwork. The hard-luck immigrant challenges April to open her heart, which forces her to make the biggest choice of her life. Will she keep Randy and her old ways or will she choose the new possibilities for life that taking in her niece and nephew offer?
Why do I think that I Can Do Bad All by Myself is the best Tyler Perry movie? I think this film’s strength is based on the performances of its cast. The script isn’t anything particularly special, at least in the context of Perry’s other writing. The motivations for their actions and explanations for what ails the characters in this film are the usual ingredients for a Tyler Perry psychodrama: alcohol, childhood sexual abuse, drug use, and not going to church.
It is a performance like the one given by Taraji P. Henson that allows I Can Do Bad All by Myself to soar as a film about triumph and redemption. Henson is such a natural that whatever character she plays comes across as honest and authentic. In her performance, the audience can buy April, in spite of whatever contrivances Perry fashions for that character’s past. Henson also deftly executes her skills so that she can amplify the comedic moments even in the midst of the intense drama of this film. For instance, there is pathos and merriment in the scene in which Madea first confronts April with her niece and nephews. This scene defines I Can Do Bad All by Myself’s attitude that there is joy even the darkest times in life. Using laughter, Perry and his star give the audience a chance to step back and take a different look at this pivotal moment in the film.
There are other good performances. Brian J. White as the philandering husband and boyfriend, Randy, is exquisite, and Adam Rodriguez alternately simmers and shines as Sandino, the do-the-right-thing handyman. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Hope Olaide Wilson as April’s fierce and stubborn niece, Jennifer, a character that is essentially a younger version of her aunt. It is a testament to young Miss Wilson’s talent that she could present Jennifer as being destined to follow April’s sad path in life without it seeming contrived.
It also doesn’t hurt to have two of the best ever rhythm and blues and soul singers, Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige, belting out a few songs, giving the kind of vocal performances that will raise the roof and then knock down the walls. It is these performances that make I Can Do Bad All by Myself the standout drama, thus far, in Tyler Perry’s filmography and a movie not to be missed.