The number one movie at the US box office this week is I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF. With an estimated budget of USD13m, it has already grossed USD27m. But this film is unlikely to be released in the UK, catering as it does to what the studios might have termed a niche market, African-Americans, until they saw the numbers. So, in order to get a peek at this apparent phenomenon, I took a look at writer-director-actor Tyler Perry's previous film, MADEA GOES TO JAIL.
As with BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE and too many Eddie Murphy films to name, MADEA GOES TO JAIL features Tyler Perry in prosthetics as an old, fat, black woman, with an "anger-management problem" and a brutally simple philosophy on life: don't blame people, don't be the victim, suck it up, fight your corner, and get on with your life. Her segment of the film sees Perry/Madea refuse to turn over a new leaf and go to Church, finally ending up in jail, where she rules the roost. The segment is played for broad laughs - Madea trashing the car of a woman who stole her parking space - and mostly works. In particular, there is very funny and indeed, very clever scene where Madea goes to therapy with Dr Phil.
The strange thing is that rather than just create a broad comedy that's all Madea's own, Tyler Perry chooses to create a movie that is tonally very different indeed. Worse still, those two movie are inter-cut with each other with hardly any relationship to each other, until almost the last fifteen minutes of the film. In this second segment, Derek Luke plays a warm-hearted DA whose ambitious girlfriend resents his involvement with an old friend turned prostitute and drug addict. This segment is very earnest but also very preachy indeed and speaks to why Perry is so popular with the Christian community. It preaches, quite literally, getting clean, moving on, and allowing Jesus to save us.
I'm not entirely sure why the movie has been so derided by the critics. Each segment works well on its own terms, and it's rather nice to see a film-maker who actually cares about the message he is giving and the audience he is catering to. And if the two segments sit uneasily together for mainstream sensibilities, it reminded me very much of the kind of genre-shifts Bollywood has been dealing in for decades. The idea being that, if you want people to pay over their hard-earned dollars in the cinema, you need to give them a little of everything.
MADEA GOES TO JAIL was released in the US in February 2009.