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By Pete Vonder Haar | February 26, 2005


You might assume a relatively upbeat white guy like myself might not be the target audience for a film called “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” and you’d be right. If the title wasn’t enough, the opening voice-over drove the point home when it informed us that this movie “is for every woman who’s had a problem with a black man.” Aside from not being a woman, the only problem I’ve ever had with a black man was with Mike Tyson for losing to Buster Douglas and, in so doing, costing me some hard-earned cash.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the sort of dilemma Helen (Kimberly Elise) – our narrator – had in mind. Her problem takes the form of being kicked out of the palatial estate she’s shared with her attorney husband Charles (“The Practice’s” Steve Harris) after 18 years. The ridiculously boorish Charles is ditching Helen for a younger model and literally throws her out of the house, leaving her penniless and homeless (the silly woman actually signed a prenup). There’s nothing for it but to return to the ghetto home of her Aunt Madea.

“Medea?” you think, “Great, I love Euripides. At least, that’s what I told that Greek Studies major I was trying to pick up.” No, no, no…Madea in this case is writer Tyler Perry in a drag getup that doesn’t even come close to providing the illusion of femininity. Aunt Madea is loud-mouthed, gun-toting, take no BS black woman. Sort of like Hattie Mae from “Big Momma’s House,” only without that character’s subtle wit or refinement. Furthermore, her entrance, while something of a relief following 20 minutes of marital breakup melodrama, is confusing as hell. Is this a) a dramatic film, b) a bad taste comedy, or c) a clumsily executed mish-mash of the two?

If you answered c), you’ve taken too many multiple choice tests, because from this point on, “Diary” veers back and forth between indigestibly syrupy romance and vulgar “ethnic” comedy, with healthy doses of Christian proselytizing thrown in for good measure.

The film’s romantic angle stems from Helen meeting and, eventually, falling in love with steelworker Orlando (Shemar Moore). We’re supposed to be encouraged at her ability to get back on that horse, even though few people divorced after nearly 20 years of marriage look like they could’ve stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, as both Helen and Orlando do. It’s always gratifying when two obscenely attractive people manage to find each other.

And so they court for a while. I say “court” because – in spite of the fact the couple see each every night for four months – they never give in to their throbbing biological urges, contenting themselves with fireside snuggling and long walks on the beach (one such montage, set to an R&B version of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us,” resembles nothing so much as a Massengill commercial). Orlando is never pushy, insisting he wants to be Helen’s “knight in shining armor” (he actually says this). He’s so perfect, in fact, and so quick to spout Biblical platitudes, that I started thinking he was Jesus. Hell, he even looks like him. The guy is the most patient and understanding human being I’ve ever seen, and that counts my wife.

“Diary” ends up leaving us in a bit of a bind. On one hand, the character of Madea is so obnoxious and overdone you almost wish Perry had devoted more attention to the dramatic angle and the relationship between Helen and Orlando, except the romance is so contrived, with object lessons about trusting in God strewn everywhere like big turds, you find yourself looking forward to Madea’s return.

As if the soporific romance isn’t enough, Charles suffers a comeuppance (something to do with the wages of sin) so hilarious in its banality, you can almost overlook the decidedly un-Christian revenge Helen subjects him to. For a while there, it looks like we’re heading into “Passion of the Christ”-like righteous torture territory, but everything ultimately works out okay. Like it always does.

Throw in a subplot involving Madea’s son (Perry again) and his junkie wife, who miraculously detoxes just in time for the toe-tapping church revival finale – in which the pastor actually sings a song calling out Buddha and Mohammed as false idols – and you’ll be lucky if you’re not begging a Supreme Being, any Supreme Being to call you home. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Insanely Happy Asian Hermaphrodite, “Diary” is a mess.

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