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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The seven best performers in Tyler Perry's films

Sierra Aylina McClain and Tasha Smith
  • Sierra Aylina McClain and Tasha Smith
Even if you don't subscribe to Tyler Perry's particular spiritual beliefs, you can appreciate the fact that he gives deserving actors reliable paychecks. Fans of Atlanta theater can enjoy his film's "Easter Egg" style pleasures of seeing walk-on roles from local thespians like Bart Hansard, Carol Mitchell-Leon, Steve Coulter, Johnell Easter, Elizabeth Welles Berkes and more. Plus, Perry helps support the kind of African-American movie stars often ill-served by Hollywood, like Alfre Woodard (The Family That Preys) and Angela Bassett (Meet the Browns). Here's a list of some of the most impressive, scene-stealing performances in Perry's movies.

1. Kimberly Elise, Diary of a Mad Black Woman and For Colored Girls. Elise gives moving performances in both Perry's first feature film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman (helmed by music video director Darren Grant) and his most recent drama, For Colored Girls. In the former she provides a kind of template for the downtrodden Perry heroine who dumps her unappreciative husband and triumphs over circumstance, and invests emotional depth into the melodrama. In For Colored Girls, she takes the most tragic figure — an wife and mother who sees her child die before her eyes — and seems to convey bottomless reservoirs of suffering in her eyes, while also making the long trek back out of grief.

2. Tasha Smith, Daddy's Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too? Smith could be the unsung heroine of Perry's work, providing the angry wisecracks and feminine fury in films that don't feature Perry as Madea. She provides a villainous turn in Daddy's Little Girls as apparently the angriest, most unfit mother to walk the earth, while providing a lighter turn in the Why Did I Get Married? films as brash, outspoken Angela. She even successful delivers the the line that gives Why Did I Get Married Too? its title.

3. Idris Elba, Daddy's Little Girls. Male actors aren't always well-served by Perry's films, which tend to reduce men to either bland, cleancut heroes or sadistic bullies in tales of female empowerment. The most notable exception is Daddy's Little Girls, which cheers for a mechanic and male single parent, Monty James, played by "The Wire's" Idris Elba. Elba's personal magnetism and implosive acting style keeps Monty from coming across as a modern-day saint and hints at dark, complex emotions just below the surface.

4. Steve Harris, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Perhaps the best of Perry's husbands-from-hell is "The Practice's" Steve Harris, who so relishes his own nasty behavior, and greets his (deserved) misfortunes with such self-pity that he becomes compelling in his own right, as opposed to simply throwing up obstacles to the heroine.

5. Jill Scott, Why Did I Get Married? In the Why Did I Get Married? movies, Jill Scott's Sheila is tormented by a contemptuous husband (Richard T. Jones) who takes a devilish glee in humiliating her — and pretty much the rest of the characters, for that matter. Scott not only maintains her dignity, she experiences a charged sexual awakening in the first film.

6. Thandie Newton, For Colored Girls. The promiscuous bartender Tangie learns lessons in self-control and facing one's childhood demons over the course of the film, but Newton's sultry performance celebrates the character's erotic confidence, no matter what the script thinks about her. Despite the eccentricity of the poetry-reciting film around her, Newton gives a performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

7. Mary J. Blige, I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Possibly the most thrilling scene in any Tyler Perry is actually Blige's rendition of the title song of I Can Do Bad All By Myself, an impassioned musical interlude that can make you stand up and cheer, even if you're watching the film alone on video. Few filmmakers ever capture such powerhouse vocals so effectively.


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