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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When I reviewed Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?, I was able to comfortably make this observation: it was "the first genuinely boring Tyler Perry movie, on account of being the most tasteful and restrained Tyler Perry movie." And that remains true, all these Tyler Perry movies later. It is still fairly simple and straightforward by his lights, and it is about as sedentary as any of them.

These things are not true of its sequel, released two and a half years later: Why Did I Get Married Too? in addition to having one of the worst titles it possibly could, is certainly not tasteful or restrained: it is as borderline-psychotic as some of its characters. And on that count, it's really not fair to call it boring, either, although it is not crazily delightful after the fashion of The Family That Preys or Perry's film from later in 2010, For Colored Girls, or even the indescribably gaudy Madea films; if it is not-boring it is for the worst possible reason, which is that watching unstable people shrieking irrationally tends to put one on guard, and the experience of watching Why Did I Also Get Married? is less "entertaining" than it is "alarming", and the film has the rare effect of making one feel defensive, as though this shrill, inexplicable people might jump off the screen and start raging at the very fabric of reality. That was my experience, anyway.

So, the film picks up three years after the original, and apparently, the grousing displayed in the original that vacationing to snowy Vermont was idiotic has been heeded, since this time around, our four couples have taken their annual marriage retreat on a Caribbean island, having apparently not gotten together as a group since the traumas of that day, which are referenced with heavy-handed "remember when X" moments of dialogue that indicate first, that these characters have no other point of reference for their alleged decades of shared memories, and second, that Perry can think of no better way to make a sequel than keep nudging his viewer and shouting, "That happened, remember how that happened? And then this other thing happened?" Which is, to be fair, better than the way that George Lucas writes prequels.

Do you remember the four couples? I cannot begin to imagine why you would. Just a quick refresher: Terry (Perry) and Diane (Sharon Leal) were torn apart last time by his concerns that she was too busy with work to love him and their child; they seem to have gotten over that by now, and are far and away the most well-adjusted of the couples, having all sorts of cute, couply, "let's have fun, married sex!" conversations that are particularly discomfiting when delivered by the man who vocalises Madea. Then we have Marcus (Michael Jai White) and Angela (Tasha Smith), the comic relief couple; I will return to them. Sheila (Jill Scott) was the focal point of the last movie, which spent most of its plot energy on her separation from the crude and vicious Mike (Richard T. Jones), prior to marrying Troy (Lamman Rucker); now, their marriage has hit its first major trial, and Troy's perpetual unemployment has left him angry and resentful. And then, we have pop-psychologist Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba), the super-together power couple who break the movie into two halves with their stunning announcement that they plan to get a divorce.

Structurally, In Addition, Why Did I Get Married? is identical to the original: the first half at the marriage retreat follows the characters having very didactic conversations about life and marriage and the responsibilities of being in a relationship and such; the second follows each of the four couples dealing with the seismic changes that the midway twist brings about. This was all a bit bland and talky in the first movie; here, it's all sort of deranged and nonsensical. As it happens, this was only the third Perry film not based on one of his stage works, and it seems at least possible that what we find here is the result of material that hasn't been tested: while WDIGM? was about as insightful as a greeting card, it was tonally and thematically unified; the follow-up just throws ideas at the wall. It is, as well, his only non-Madea sequel, and he fails entirely to answer the key question facing every sequel that ever gets made: why are we revisiting these characters? Is there some hugely important facet of their lives that gets explored this time, or are we just covering the same ground? Stunningly, I Got Married As Well - Why? manages to fuck up both ways: the first half is just reheating the same material in different costumes, while the second half manages to expand upon the first film's universe only by blowing up all the characters and then dancing on the ashes.

In brief: the new film only found its own personality by steamrolling over the only thing that made the original at all noteworthy, which is that it's the one Tyler Perry film grounded in recognisable everyday psychology and emotion. Here, in order to drive any new plots at all, Perry has to first bring Mike back in and wedge him squarely in the plot without reason or motivation, nothing at all beyond his jolly decision to be a dick because he is dickish. When this ends up failing to kick off anything worthwhile, Perry just straight-up character assassinates Patricia and Angela, and this is a huge pity, because Angela, and Smith's performance, was about as good as WDIGM? got. Here, she is not a comical woman with trust issues: she is a dangerously off-kilter monster, spitting fire and venom at anyone who stands still long enough, and what she unloads 'pon Marcus is not comic relief nagging, but genuinely nasty verbal abuse, and a shockingly vindictive piece of revenge against no sin at all that Perry can't come even slightly close to turning into comedy.

She still gets off easy next to Patricia, who morphs into one of the most unbridled, misogynistic parody of the greedy professional woman that 21st Century American filmmaking has produced. A far cry this is from the typically sensitive, even belabored depiction of women as strong, dynamic figures that pepper's Perry's work; there is something dark and angry underpinning this, though I cannot begin to figure out what it might be. Perry's awful, abusive men are simply comic absurdities; his awful women, it turns out, are a nightmare of sexism and patriarchal rage.

So, the film doesn't manage to attain even the slight degree of psychological verisimilitude of the original; but even worse, it's a colossally mis-aimed bit of filmmaking, from the broadest strokes, such as Perry's hugely superficial treatment of the Caribbean as a place where people wear tacky clothes (and where poor Cicely Tyson is forced to trot out an unbelievably inconsistent accent), down to the most particular details of shot composition and editing; there are cuts that would get a first-year film student a failing grade here, and crowded medium shots that give the film a sick, claustrophobic feeling. Coming off of the relative triumph of I Can Do Bad All By Myself, it is particularly galling to see such slackness everywhere, but this isn't just a bad film, it is Tyler Perry's worst film, and would have stood out for its ineptitude and divorcement from human experience no matter where in his career it had cropped up.

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