Covering all the bases 

Mad Black Woman tries to appeal to everyone

Southern-fried desperate Atlanta housewife Helen (Kimberly Elise) is the kind of perfectly turned out and eager-to-please wife who would do Stepford proud. But after 18 years of marriage, her high-powered lawyer husband, Charles McCarter (Steve Harris), has lost interest. In what has to be the crudest breakup ever imagined, Charles shows up on the couple's wedding anniversary with his new trophy girlfriend in tow and demands that Helen immediately vacate their megamansion.

In a moment that would make TV schlockmeister Aaron Spelling proud, Helen is dragged kicking and screaming out of her home while wearing a glittery evening dress and heels. A U-Haul packed with her belongings sits idling in the driveway, waiting to transport this lapsed Cinderella back to her humble roots.

Savvy viewers will immediately reckon where Diary of a Mad Black Woman is going when Helen tumbles from her fairy tale castle to her granny's gracious home in a cozy, family-oriented Atlanta "ghetto." The down-to-earth setting has the expected transformative effect. Amid jubilant neighborhood barbecues and regular churchgoing, Helen learns money does not guarantee happiness, though a slice of sensitive man cake named Orlando (Shemar Moore) might.

Helen eventually gets her groove back, thanks to Orlando, a round-the-block blue collar romantic savior who is never seen without a bandana around his head - probably to disguise his halo.

Though Helen resists, Orlando convinces her to love again. And while it initially promises some good old-fashioned grrrl power and rage, Diary of a Mad Black Woman quickly backs away from feminist emancipation into the tradition-bound formula that demands every broken heart can be immediately rectified by a new, better man.

Orlando and Helen's frothy Hallmark love story is periodically hijacked by Helen's gun-toting grandmother, Madea (Tyler Perry). John Waters had Divine, and first-time director Darren Grant has Tyler Perry, who plays multiple roles (and genders) in a film based upon Perry's own stage play.

Perry attacks drag with the same scary gusto of Martin Lawrence, flinging a pair of monstrous breasts around and spouting ludicrous malapropisms. Anytime Diary of a Mad Black Woman threatens to become a conventional romance, Madea returns with the demented vengeance of a Greek Fury, destroying Charles' mansion with a chainsaw and winding up under house arrest, toting an electronic ankle bracelet on her tree trunk leg as the rest of the cast struggles to keep a straight face. And Madea gives Diary of a Mad Black Woman its carnivalesque sense of comedy, relishing sexual randiness, rude bodily eruptions, outrageous put-downs and the apparently bottomless laff-riot of a man in a dress.

But that mix of earnest God talk and bottom-scraping sexual humor is one of the myriad inconsistencies in Grant's film.

There's no doubt Grant has clocked his time in front of the VCR. The film references pour down like rain, from Jungle Fever to Misery and An Officer and a Gentleman to a campy, funny nod to Mommie Dearest's famous "no more wire hangers" scene.

But Grant's film smorgasbord of borrowed moments coupled with Tyler Perry's roller-coaster dramatic changes in tone, in which lowdown comedy is followed by moments of romantic tenderness followed by earnest spiritual affirmation, give Diary of a Mad Black Woman a disorienting ADD pace.

Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, there is an overwhelming abundance to sample here. You can have a little bit of everything in Diary of a Mad Black Woman but still feel unsatisfied by the time you leave.



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