Even With The Ferocity Of Taraji P. Henson’s Performance, Acrimony Is Still The Same Old Tyler Perry Film
It’s not easy being a female character in a Tyler Perry film.
There are the downtrodden characters. The ladies who are treated poorly by their partners, their parents and the world at large (i.e., Helen in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Lisa and Vanessa in Madea’s Family Reunion, Brenda in Meet the Browns and Sheila in Why Did I Get Married?). There are also the insufferable characters. These women are the ones who are behind the mistreatment until an experience gets them all the way together (i.e., verbally abusive mother Victoria in Madea’s Family Reunion, adulterous and emasculating Andrea in The Family That Preys, and self-centered alcoholic April in I Can Do Bad All By Myself). And every now and then, there is the women in between. A good woman whose choices lead her down a regretful path (Judith in Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor…).
But Melinda in Perry’s newest project, Acrimony, might be the first woman to be all of these types of characters, and to encompass all of their struggles, in the span of one film. And while Taraji P. Henson is well-equipped to display the wide range of emotions required for such a rollercoaster ride, in the words of Mo’Nique, even she can’t make this movie make sense.
That is the responsibility of the storyteller, and in this story, you don’t know who to feel sorry for, who to want better for, and who to shake common sense back into as the movie goes through its ebbs and flows.
When we first meet Melinda, she’s in therapy, trying to battle the demons that have encircled her and her relationship with her longtime love, Robert (played by actor Lyriq Bent). She takes us back to her college years when she meets Robert, whom she falls for after a tragedy. We watch their relationship grow but stay stagnant at the same time as Robert seeks to make his dreams come true, at her emotional and financial expense. Years pass and the ambition that powered their relationship turns into a pipe dream, and you can’t help but wonder what Melinda still sees in him. Her family isn’t a fan, and aside from trying to work to hit it big, Robert, though smart and capable, is lazy and short-sighted. You can’t stand him.
By the time the couple reach their climax, things start to unfold in Robert’s life that leave you feeling sympathetic for him, even though he’s still a mess. He can’t seem to catch a break when he’s finally closer than he’s ever been to making his dreams come true. Still, your allegiance is to Melinda.
But then, by the last half of the movie, everything is flipped on its head. You find yourself feeling as though Robert is a good guy after all. The good fortune that eventually comes his way seems to confirm that — but it happens after an understandably frustrated Melinda has had enough. All of a sudden, you feel for her, but you also feel for him, too. Then you root for him and start to question Melinda. Eventually, you stop feeling sorry for her and start asking what’s wrong with her. Then you start questioning yourself: What the hell am I watching?
When the movie ends, you no longer know what to feel. And while that sounds like an interesting thrill ride, in reality, it actually makes for an incredibly frustrating movie-watching experience.
Truth be told, the movie sends a flurry of messages, and none of them make you feel good. Particularly the ones that center on the struggles of loving a man who has “potential” but no real plan. In this film, Melinda is punished for being supportive, and then she’s punished for wanting Robert to be and do better. His life changes for the better while hers, in turn, loses its footing. And while that’s obviously unfair in real life or on screen, in the context of the whole story, it feels extremely unfair to watch.
I wanted to see this movie, and paid money to on Thursday, because I felt that with Henson in the lead role, things could be different than they have been for Perry’s movies. With her wide-eyed rage and vitriol-filled pronouncements in the previews, Perry might try and deliver one of his best since Why Did I Get Married?. You want to see it and hope for a psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat because, you know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. But instead, you feel a bit taken for a ride. It’s more of the same, if not worse than what you remember from his previous projects.
The story feels like yet another opportunity to put a female character through the wringer, but for no real reason that benefits the story. Instead, Robert gets to prove that he isn’t the useless dreamer he made himself out to be for so many years, representing a lot of the men out there who have aspirations they don’t give up on and don’t want their loved ones to give up on either. But all of this takes place at the expense of Melinda’s time, patience, money, heart and sanity.
For the record, Henson said that Perry told her the inspiration for Melinda’s character was Glenn Close’s Alex in Fatal Attraction. With that being said, maybe he went into the writing process hellbent on creating the most irate and on the edge character he could think of, and it didn’t really matter what the means were in the story to get her there. The results of that, which we see on-screen, feel unrealistic, at times ridiculous and in many ways, confusing. Who would pass on that opportunity? Who would react like that? Who would trust a man like him with something like that? Who would stick around for that?
Only a character in a Tyler Perry film.