April 10, 2018

I Watched 'Tyler Perry's Acrimony' So You Didn't Have To


I'd like to preface this review by saying I am not well-versed in the complete oeuvre of writer-director-producer-actor (and Oprah squad member) Tyler Perry.

But I am familiar with his rise to self-made mogulship due to his string of modestly-budgeted films primarily produced for an underrepresented segment of the American population. He has done his own thing, telling stories that weren't being told, and employing individuals both in front of and behind the camera long before Frances McDormand uttered the words "inclusion rider" during her acceptance speech at this year's Oscars. And as a result, Mr. Perry has earned buckets and buckets of money, nearly single-handedly contributing to Georgia's economy with his booming movie studio just outside Atlanta.

Creating his own entertainment empire and consistently pumping out big-screen titles almost every year is an outstanding achievement. But does it necessarily mean his product is any good? 

When it comes to his latest effort, Acrimony (I won't use his name in the film's title because, like similarly monikered movies, I find it obnoxious), I can answer that question with a resounding ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Before jumping into this, I had heard not-so-great things about Perry's skills as a director and screenwriter. I have also heard African-American friends of mine, mostly female, negatively express how they feel about his work, particularly with regards to the way he portrays black women, which -- if one were to dig deep -- has arguably been influenced by his painful past. However, that is an op-ed for another day. I came to this movie simply to critique it like any other movie I have an interest in.

And?

I can't remember the last time I felt so insulted as a moviegoer after walking out of the theater. Acrimony might as well describe what I felt after being subjected to horrendous writing, embarrassing production values, lazy direction, and one of the biggest plot holes ever witnessed on the big screen.


How could I have been suckered into seeing this? Well, I frequently get what I call The Psychological Thriller Itch, and a few months ago, I felt as if Acrimony could scratch it, especially after catching its exquisitely edited trailer. I then had my interest piqued even further when Perry and his star, the magnetic Taraji P. Henson, started doing their press tour, hitting the talk show circuit and hitting these talking points:

1. Ever since Perry worked on 2014's Gone Girl, he wanted to do his own female-centric thriller. (Even though the whole woman-scorned-gets-revenge thing has been done to death.)
2. He wanted to give Taraji her own Fatal Attraction moment for a new generation.
3. He only had 8 days with Taraji to shoot her scenes. I guess that's an impressive feat?

In other words, I was sold. I took the bait. And I'm ashamed of it. What I had hoped to be a trashy-fun revenge flick turned out to be one of the worst movies of 2018 thus far.

Needless to say, SPOILERS AHEAD...

Taraji plays Melinda, who, in the opening of the movie, is being court-ordered to stay away from her ex-husband and his new wife. Melinda appears to be a woman scorned, and Henson nails Simmering Rage beautifully (those of you who've seen at least one episode of Empire already know this). Melinda is also ordered to attend therapy sessions where she sits on a couch, chain smokes, and vents to an off-screen psychiatrist while dropping the occasional "this motherfucker" while describing her ex, Robert Gayle (the dashing Lyriq Bent).

And here's where the entire first third of the movie turns into one, way-too-long flashback telling us how Melinda and Robert met in college. He's a poor-but-intelligent engineer (and former felon) who's working on an invention, a rechargeable battery called the Gayle Force Wind (wink). And she's a virgin with two sisters who serve as a Greek chorus, occasionally popping up to tell Melinda she shouldn't spend so much time (and her inherited fortune) on a loser like Robert. But he woos her anyway, and they become a couple, going for walks along the river in Pittsburgh in a couple of scenes that are so blatantly green-screened, it actually prompted me to sit up in my seat, look around the theater, and ask, "Is anyone else seeing this?" (Exhibit A: this screencap taken from the trailer)


But when Robert sleeps with another coed named Diana? Something inside Melinda snaps, and she drives her Jeep into Robert's mobile home (remember, he's poor) while the two are having sex inside. The collision causes uteral damage in Melinda, and she is incapable of bearing any children. Robert apologizes, promises he'll never do it again, blah, blah, blah...and the two not only remain a couple -- they get married. And she pays for his grad school tuition. And she pays for everything else. Her fat bank account gets drained, and we know this because we see the calculations appear as graphics on screen, y'know, to make watching someone go broke more fun.

The young Melinda and Robert then move into her dead mother's home that she's inherited, and she ends up supporting him for 18 years while he obsessively tinkers away on Gayle Force Wind like a mad-but-good-looking scientist. (Goodbye actors who played Young Robert and Young Melinda -- you will not be missed.) Grown-ass Melinda busts her ass day and night while grown-ass Robert attempts to get his foot in the door at a company owned by a Generic Rich White Guy who could potentially buy his invention. Robert sends letters and emails to this company every day (yes, for 18 years), which prompts security to put him on the company's shit list. His dream is crushed because apparently there are no other companies or investors that would be interested in a rechargeable battery that looks like an eighth grader's science project. But -- what a coincidence! -- Diana, the hot chick he banged in college, works at the Generic Rich White Guy's company and could give him the in he needs. They meet for coffee (off-camera), and she conveniently leaves her wallet in his delivery truck. (Forced Plot Point Alert!) Oh yeah, I guess I should mention Robert's now a driver for some seafood delivery service, a business run by Melinda's brothers-in-law who give him the job as a favor.

Now, this might seem like we're watching The Robert Show right now, and you would be correct in that assumption because Melinda is hardly around -- now the whole we-shot-Taraji's-scenes-in-eight-days is starting to make sense.

Anyway, Robert gets a meeting with Generic Rich White Guy, causing him to bail on an important seafood delivery for a big client (Melinda's family gets pissed). GRWG makes him an offer of $800,000 for his rechargeable battery. This kind of money could help Melinda pay back the mortgage she took out on her house to support Robert's dreams as well as the money she spent on his education. But no. Robert declines the offer, thinking he deserves more, and walks out. At this point, someone in the theater let out a "What the fuck, man?"


Meanwhile, Melinda finds Diana's wallet in Robert's truck (because of course she does), but she doesn't crash her car into anything this time. She simply sits back, smokes a cigarette, and waits for Robert to come home. Before she can confront him about Diana, he tells her that he walked away from an $800,000 offer he basically waited 18 years to receive. This gives Melinda more reason to say, "I wanna divorce your ass." Robert swears he never slept with Diana (for a second time) -- they only got coffee! -- and begs Melinda to forgive him, but it's too late. She could never stay with a man who has let her down so much after giving him so much. Boy, bye!

Melinda and Robert get divorced...and what perfect timing! Robert then hooks up with Diana, and GRWG comes back with an offer of seventy-five million dollars for that fucking battery thingy. Robert's dream comes true! Financial problems solved! So, in an attempt to reconcile one last time, he delivers a ten-million-dollar check to Melinda, pays off her mortgage, and thanks her for all that she did for him. A pleasantly surprised Melinda is like, "Ooh, you rich now? And you got that waterfront penthouse we talked about buying? And that yacht you dreamed about? Let's get back together!" But Robert's like (and I'm paraphrasing), "Sorry, I'm engaged to Diana now, and she's pregnant with my baby...y'know, the child you could never give me."

Ouch.

Well, this is the proverbial last straw for Melinda. She tries to sue Robert for the money she spent to invest in his dreams, and the judge is like, "Lady, your ex wrote you a check for ten million dollars and voluntarily paid off your mortgage. Get outta my courtroom." Melinda freaks out on Robert and Diana in the courthouse lobby, giving everyone a taste of her crazy. She then holes herself up in her dead mother's house, drinks a shitload of wine, and like any good movie psycho (or Melrose Place-era Marcia Cross), she scratches out Robert's face in a bunch of photos. Her family and one concerned coworker realize she's off her rocker and try to intervene. They're like, "I guess we should do something." So what do they do? They gather at Melinda's house to make sure she doesn't run off and do something stupid. A defeated Melinda gives in.


Meanwhile, a now-married Robert and Diana set sail for their honeymoon on Robert's fully-staffed yacht. They're out in the ocean at night, toasting to their future. Kissy, kissy, smooch, smooch.

Cut back to Melinda's house: one of her sister's discovers an open window with its screen cut out. Melinda is gone!

And what happens next is for the Movie Plot Hole Hall of Fame: While Diana gets ready for bed on the yacht, Robert lounges on the top deck...and is confronted by a gun-toting Melinda who's decked out in a white gown, her hair frizzed out. Um...how did she get here? Where did she get a gun? And how did she get past the eight-man crew stationed throughout the boat? Is this the Glenn-Close-in-Fatal-Attraction moment Tyler Perry was building up to? Because this ain't that. This final showdown is so blandly staged, it feels like a tame Real Housewives confrontation. During this ridiculous denouement, Melinda shoots Robert, and when the crew finally shows up, she forces them to jump overboard, leaving her alone to finish off Robert and his new bride. A bloody Robert saves Diana by pushing Melinda overboard, but we know that crazy bitch is coming back, and when she does, she gets her foot tangled up in chains connected to the anchor that Robert eventually releases, dragging Melinda down into a watery grave.

When the closing credits began to roll and the lights came up, I found out I wasn't the only one with the burning question. I heard several people in the theater ask, "How did she get on the boat?" YES, TYLER PERRY. CARE TO EXPLAIN? Were you and your editor out sick when they taught continuity in film school?

Besides this glaring error, Acrimony is extremely problematic when you look at the overall picture. Never are we given the slightest explanation for Melinda's mental health problems. At one point, her never-seen therapist briefly mentions "borderline personality disorder," which sets off Melinda even more, but a proper diagnosis is never given. The neglectful way in which mental health is treated in this movie is not only shocking, it's an insult to real-life patients dealing with similar problems.

Early on, Melinda also brings up how unfair the stereotype of "the angry black woman" is, but Acrimony fails to make any effort in exploring why that is or why Melinda is so easily triggered. Instead, it gives us a confusing, convoluted, and unbalanced story about a short-tempered woman who just...cracks.

What has been marketed as a scorned-woman revenge flick turns out to be a movie in which the audience isn't sure who to root for until the last act. And that's NOT a compliment. Perry & Co. aren't crafting some kind of morally ambiguous saga about the politics of marriage. On the contrary, the only thing Acrimony succeeds at is further proving the writer-director's frustrating inability to put together a coherent and entertaining story.

@TheFirstEcho

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