I have to say it.
I like Tyler Perry.
I like the way Tyler Perry writes. I like the way Tyler Perry directs. I like the films Tyler Perry creates, and I love the way Tyler Perry blends humor with heart, humility with outrageousness. For all his faults as a filmmaker, almost without exception Tyler Perry has entertained and moved this jaded critic with his often stage-inspired cinematic creations.
What I really love about Tyler Perry is that even as he largely sticks to his immensely successful formula, Perry continues to grow as a director with each film he makes.
Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is Perry's best film yet, largely on the strength of a balanced script, rich character, outstanding performances, inspiring music and what is easily Perry's most authentically felt and celebratory film to date.
Sure, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" contains all the traditional Tyler Perry ingredients.
Let's see, Madea?
Downright bad guys with some faithful, good-hearted men to balance them out?
Inspiring messages of faith?
The healing power of family and community?
It's here, too.
In short, this IS a Tyler Perry film. It's an unapologetic celebration of life, faith, family, friendship and eternal hope. Is it formulaic? Perhaps, but I prefer to see it as Perry remaining faithful to his core audience and finding new and creative ways to blend this formula into fresh, involving material.
"I Can Do Bad All By Myself" centers largely upon April (Taraji P. Henson), a club singer with a mean ole' boyfriend (Brian White) content to bitterly wile away her days singing in the club until one day she unexpectedly acquires the three children of her recently deceased drug addict sister. The film that follows is essentially April opening herself to the love of friends and family once again while, yes, having faith restored in her life. Along the way, Perry infuses "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" with what is easily one of 2009's best original soundtracks with live performances from a church lady (Gladys Knight), a bartender (Mary J. Blige) and Henson herself. The film's spiritual core is accentuated by the presence of Pastor Marvin Winans, a musical T.D. Jakes type of presence with a delightful blend of power and grace.
Featuring strong performances from the entire cast, most notably Henson's heartfelt turn as April, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" displays an increasingly confident Perry serving up a film with fewer gimmicks, more heart, genuine laughs and a less intrusive Madea, Perry's signature character but one who has occasionally been a bit jarring cinematically.
Having been a Perry since his early days doing stage work, it has been a tad frustrating that Perry's films are never screened for critics. While his early films were certainly hit-and-miss and may have warranted studio caution, as Perry has grown as a filmmaker even the most jaded critic has to acknowledge that Perry is growing as a filmmaker. It's equally likely, however, that Lionsgate simply knows that Perry's fans will show up regardless of what the press says. This may very well be true, but isn't it time for Perry and his studio to take a few baby steps towards widening his audience and, perhaps, the press could help accomplish this task?
Just a thought.
Regardless of the reasons by the continued lack of solid publicity for Perry's films, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is clear proof of Perry's growth as a screenwriter and a filmmaker and features a solid cast of actors and musicians bringing Perry's involving and entertaining story to life.
"I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is a genuinely moving, funny, inspiring and heartfelt film in a year that has seen very few such films genuinely work.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic