If I were to compare Tyler Perry to anyone working in the film industry today it would be, believe it or not, Adam Sandler.
Now then, hear me out.
Despite having picked up multiple Razzie Awards and having had films regularly ravaged by the critics, Adam Sandler has built a 25-year film career by largely playing a minor variation of the same character he plays in nearly every single film with only occasional detours in films such as Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People, and Reign Over Me.
Sandler, through his Happy Madison Productions, has built a cottage industry that has supported and produced film and television efforts of his friends and small, trusted circle of on-screen and behind-the-scene talent.
The simple truth is that vast majority of Sandler's films are box-office successes, some certainly more than others, and he's had very few outright bombs with Little Nicky being the most notable.
Let's face it. We hated that voice.
There is something about Sandler that America loves. I think, but having never met the man certainly do not know, that a good part of America's adoration for Sandler is that we picture Sandler being in real life a variation of what we see on the big-screen minus the moose piss.
With only two exceptions that I've seen, the abysmal Jack & Jill and the far too mean-spirited That's My Boy!, Sandler's films are good-hearted, relational, easy to watch, and innocent despite the frequent schoolyard humor.
Adam meet Tyler. These two were meant to do a film together.
Tyler Perry does NOT do schoolyard humor. Tyler Perry certainly does not make the same kind of films that Adam Sandler makes, yet I can't help but find him to be a kindred spirit.
Tyler Perry hasn't picked up a slew of Razzies, though he did win Worst Actress just this year. Tyler Perry's films are regularly ravaged by the critics for their paint-by-number formulas and broad humor and sentimentality.
While Perry's film and television career is only at the twelve year mark, Perry has experienced a semi-meteoric rise to fame by successfully adapting his original stage productions for the big screen including the love 'em or hate 'em Madea films. Perry doesn't write or direct for the film critics, in fact his films are seldom ever screened for critics around the country, but instead he's tapped almost innately into exactly what his audience is looking for in a film.
He gives it to them. They, in turn, show up in opening weekend droves.
Much like Sandler, Perry's films are almost always a box-office success but unlike Sandler he's mastered the art of the modest production budget that practically assures a worst-case scenario of breaking even. From his cinematic success, Perry's fortunes have grown to include an Atlanta-based cottage industry that includes film, television, and stage. In fact, his latest film The Single Moms Club has already been optioned by Oprah for television.
Like Sandler, Perry's films are generally good-hearted, life-affirming, and unabashedly hopeful even when dealing with challenging subjects. While Perry is more comfortable moving over into drama and melodrama, both Sandler and Perry have a gift for celebrating humanity through their films.
They don't create cinematic masterpieces, but Sandler and Perry create films that people love.
The Single Moms Club, the last film in Perry's 15-film Lionsgate distribution agreement, is not a masterpiece but it is still a film that Perry's fans will appreciate because of his trademark affirmation of life and his ongoing commitment towards understanding the everyday human experience of the world that surrounds him.
The plot is fairly simple. A group of single moms meet in a parent-teacher conference at their childrens' prep school. It seems that the children in question have all been busted in various stages of rabble-rousing on campus including smoking, tagging walls, and otherwise doing things they frown upon at your typical elite prep school. With their kids placed on what amounts to a probationary status, the moms are harangued into serving as an organizing committee for the school's fundraising dance.
Let the violins begin.
For the record, I like violins.
The moms include May (Nia Long), a reporter and aspiring writer, publishing exec Jan (Wendy McLendon-Covey), Hillary, a wealthy socialite about to lose it all due to a divorce from her sleazy lawyer husband, housekeeper Esperanza (Zulay Henao), and Lytia (Cocoa Brown), a very working class waitress who has made a bunch of mistakes in her life and is terrified her children will do the same.
As is true for a good majority of Perry's films, there's a camaraderie and chemistry that exists among the key players that transcends the often melodramatic and presumptive material. While The Single Moms Club is a great deal more diverse ethnically than the majority of Perry's productions, Perry has managed to build such a bond of sisterhood here that it's hard not to expect some traveling pants to show up.
There are a few signs of Perry's tendency to broadly stereotype, ranging from pretty much all the exes being jerks and heathens to the rather odd decision to neatly tie up everyone's relationship status by film's end despite very clearly teaching the lesson that all of these women were doing just fine on their own.
Make up your mind.
The cast is uniformly strong, with comic Cocoa Brown and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids) leaving the strongest impressions while Perry himself does a nice job in understatedly playing a potential suitor for May. Brown gives the film its emotional core with a performance that exudes a sort of simple honesty that one can't help but think absolutely nails the tone that Perry is going for with the film.
As is true for nearly all of Perry's films, The Single Moms Club isn't going to be for everyone and it's certainly not the best film to come out of Perry's 15-film agreement with Lionsgate. It is, however, a trademark film from Perry in that it's a good-hearted, well intended, and life-affirming film that celebrates sisterhood and the moms who work really hard to give their children better lives.
While Perry may never be mentioned in the same breath as a Scorsese or a P.T. Anderson, he's carved a pretty special place in American cinema amongst those who aren't quite as concerned with cinematic excellence as they are with films that say things that matter.
Love him or hate him, after 15 films with Lionsgate over the past twelve years Tyler Perry has carved his own special place in the cinematic world where people are appreciated for who they are, supported in becoming who they want to be, and deserving of the life they've always dreamed of living.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic