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We were joined in a conference room by CL's online manager Edward Adams. Ed ran the DVD projector and recorded the discussion for a podcast. He also had more to say about the movie, and about Tyler Perry, than we four panelists.
The movie we chose to watch was Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?, an ensemble romantic comedy. Chanté and Kenisha say it's the best of his movies. It was released last fall, to great financial success, but lousy reviews. Critics can't stand Tyler Perry's movies. He knows this. That's why he doesn't set up pre-release screenings for movie critics. Why help critics write a bad review when your fans are going to flock to your movies anyway?
Why Did I Get Married? is about four couples, old friends all, whose relationships are turned upside down after a group vacation to a luxurious mountain cabin. It's like The Love Boat meets The Big Chill, only all the primary actors are black.
Janet Jackson plays a psychologist. Perry plays a pediatrician married to an attorney. It's the first of his movies in which he doesn't appear in drag as Madea, the pendulous-breasted, loud-mouthed family matriarch who is his most famous fictional character.
With everyone gathered, we dim the lights and hit play.
I try to keep an open mind, but my hackles are raised during the opening credits. Kenisha notices that I'm jotting down notes.
"Are you marking down how many times you see his name?" she asks.
"Yes, we've seen four [opening credits] panels and we've seen his name four times," I say. "That's something I find kind of off-putting. Tyler Perry in a Tyler Perry film produced by Tyler Perry directed by Tyler Perry in Tyler Perry's Tyler Perry."
"It's a brand," Chanté says.
I know he's trying to brand himself and his work, but I think he overdoes it. Isn't it enough to put your name in the title of all your movies? There's a point when putting your name everywhere goes beyond branding and becomes insecurity and vanity. And if there's one thing we writers understand, it's insecurity and vanity.
The movie begins with the four couples making their way to the mountain cabin. With the exception of Jackson's character, who first appears giving a guest lecture on a college campus, the rest of the characters are introduced with painful, forced exposition.
You know Tyler Perry's character is a successful pediatrician married to a successful lawyer because while they're sitting in a Range Rover driving to the cabin, he pretty much says, "I'm a successful pediatrician," and she pretty much says, "I'm a successful lawyer."
Singer Jill Scott's character is a kind, overweight woman, married to an asshole sociopath. The over-the-top implausible setup for their characters is that they board a plane bound for the group vacation, accompanied by the husband's mistress, who happens to be Scott's thin, sexy, archetypically skanky friend.
And if that wasn't silly enough, the flight attendant tells Scott's character she's too fat to keep her seat on the plane. Instead of walking off the plane with her, the husband laughs and sits tight with the mistress as Scott's character deplanes in humiliation. It's terrible writing and it makes me cringe.
My fellow panelists agree that the exposition is over-the-top, but they don't seem to mind.
"He takes extreme characters to make a story," Tiffany says.
"I know that wouldn't happen on an airplane, but you feel so bad for her character," Chanté adds. "When the good guy comes around [later in the film], you feel that much better for her character. It's a very effective tool to draw you in. It's off-putting for you, but I'm engaged."
"You don't have to force it," I say.
"Tyler Perry's main audience is African-American," Tiffany says. "His character saying 'I'm a black man and I'm a pediatrician,' that's not said in a lot of mainstream movies."
Because black audiences are so used to seeing black characters depicted badly, she suggests, the forced dialogue of "Hey, I'm a rich doctor married to a lawyer" is almost necessary to make the point.
"It's a peek into the black elite," says Ed, who was pretty neutral about this movie, but who, as a black man, resents the boorish black stereotypes in some of Perry's previous work. "Is that why the stereotyped characters are hard to believe?"
"No," I say. "The [premise] isn't hard to believe. The part that's grating is the dialogue."
Chanté acknowledges my point, but it doesn't bother her. "There's a more subtle way to do that, but it's a matter of setting the stage," she says.
Basically, the entire panel sees how unsubtle Perry's writing is, but they don't mind as much as I do.
Featuring: Andisheh Nouraee, Chante LaGon, Kenisha Allen and Tiffany Roman.
Credit: Produced and Edited by Edward Adams / Video courtesy Lionsgate Films
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