Cinema Dispatch: Acrimony

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Acrimony and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Tyler Perry

Oh great!  We’re back here again!  It wasn’t bad enough that we got a new Pure Flix movie, but we have to get another Tyler Perry one too!?  At least that’s what I’d NORMALLY be saying, but there are a few things surrounding this particular feature that have slightly altered my expectations; including the fact that God’s Not Dead 3 is actually not all that terrible (even if it is still woefully problematic).  Tyler Perry isn’t the MOST incompetent filmmaker out there, but his middling skills are not helped by the very low expectations he puts on himself and on what he expects the audience to lap up, hence why Boo 2 was shot a mere five months before it was released and is an utter retread of the previous film.  This one though?  It could be just wishful thinking, but the darker tone along with the R rating and the casting of Taraji P Henson as the lead… well it could mean something.  Maybe not much as this is STILL a rather unimpressive director (as well as writer and producer), but if Pure Flix can manage to vastly improve their output every once in a blue moon, then why not Perry?  Does this film rise above the low expectations of yet another Tyler Perry production, or are we in for another obnoxiously moralizing tale in lieu of a well-made movie?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Melinda (Taraji P Henson and Ajiona Alexus) being sent to a court mandated therapy session to deal with her anger issues which presumably landed her in a courtroom in the first place, but she’s not just angry!  She has a pitch black white hot fury more powerful than that of a collapsing star!  What could POSSIBLY have happened to make her so unbelievably pissed!?  Well her therapist would certainly like to know, so Melinda proceeds to regale us with her life story; starting with the day she met… HIM!  Who is HIM!?  Just some dude named Robert (Lyriq Bent and Antonio Madison) she met in college.  Okay, he’s a BIT more important than that because it seems that his charisma was SO magnetic that the two ended up marrying and living a rather unspectacular life together for the last twenty years, and she is NOT happy about him wasting all those years of her life being a lazy and irresponsible man child that tinkered away in his workshop on a new-fangled battery that’s never gonna freaking work; all the while supporting this obsession with unfulfilling jobs and assuming massive amounts of debt.  Now there’s more going on here than just a crappy marriage, especially what happens after she works up the nerve to leave his sorry ass, but to go much further would venture into spoilers and it’s better that you hear it from Melinda in her own words rather than through the grape vine.  What unspeakable crimes could have happened that justifies her ceaseless rage and thirst for vengeance?  Just how far will she go to get to the man who did her wrong?  Hey, um… is Tyler Perry alright?  He seems like he’s working through some things here…

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You all should have supported Proud Mary when you had the chance!  IT’S TOO LATE NOW!!

We have to be heading into the end times because in the same week, two of the most infamously terrible studios along with their figureheads have made the best movies I’ve even seen from either of them.  Now that’s not to say that Tyler Perry (as miserably and preachy as his films can get) is in the same ballpark as Pure Flix or the dreck they’ve produced, but from the guy who thought Boo 2 was worthy of being put in theaters, this is undoubtedly a step up even if it’s still very much a Tyler Perry Production.  Let’s face it, even at his best Tyler Perry is not what you’d call a subtle filmmaker and his direction has never been the strongest (both of which are still true here), but in all honesty, him working THIS hard at making a serious drama is actually quite endearing and makes this as much a dark comedy as it is a cautionary tale of crappy relationships.  If he continues to make movies like this and pushes the envelope a bit further, we may have a new Joel Shumaker on our hands; albeit one that exchanges stylistic flare with an overabundance of Christian moralizing.  Not the tradeoff I would have made but, to each their own I guess.

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If this guy crosses Taraji P Henson ONE more time, this is gonna turn into a sequel to 8mm.

I haven’t seen any of the Madea-less Perry Dramas like Temptation or Good Deeds so I can’t say how well this one stacks against his other stabs at the genre, but his penchant for melodrama, while SUPREMELY corny, is quite compelling in a way that calls to mind trashy thrillers only with a lot of its sleazier tropes scrubbed down and cleaned up a bit.  That said, even with the Tyler Perry Wholesomeness sheen applied to certain aspects of this story, this is still a surprisingly dark turn for the guy who eschews his usual obsession with Jesus and the church to instead throw in much more sex and violence; not that he’s NEVER covered this topic before in other movies (this isn’t even his first R rated film), but if you’re like me and are coming directly off of one of his shoddy Madea flicks as the baseline for your understanding of the dude’s work, it’s more than a little jarring and it manages to give me a tad more respect for the guy; respect which I’m SURE will dissipate the moment Boo 3: Electric BOOgaloo gets announced.  The sets aren’t as cramped and stagey, the movie doesn’t stop dead in its tracks to let the actors ad lib for like twenty minutes, and there are even a few moments where the cinematography is not just decent but downright impressive.  It’s a solid production all around which is more than can be said about either Boo movie, but what really sells the movie more than anything else is the stellar performance by Taraji P Henson who isn’t afraid to completely throw herself into the role no matter what grim places the movie eventually takes her.  It doesn’t ALL work and we’ll get to some of the problems with her character later, but the venom with which she spits out her contempt for the man while simultaneously being very vulnerable and clearly destroyed by everything that has happened to her would have been a hard feat to pull off from ANY actor and she does so with aplomb.  The rest of the cast is solid as well even if they’re pretty much just on hand for Taraji P Henson to bounce off of, though I think both actors who play Robert (Lyriq Bent as an adult and Antonio Madison while in college) manage to hold their own and give rather nuanced performances for a character that could have been a one dimensional cliché.  He’s a bad person to be sure, mostly due to immaturity and selfishness, but rather than have him come off as an abusive monster who only lives to hurt people; he comes off as a guy who never really grew past himself and is just as terrified of admitting to himself what a terrible husband he’s been as Taraji P Henson is of breaking away from his emotionally manipulative games.  It’s an interesting dynamic that they develop (more so when we jump to the Lyriq Bent and Taraji P Henson versions of these characters) and the story, while VERY clunk and awkward at points, manages to stay engaging all the way through almost entirely due to their charisma and captivating performances.

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If things get any more frosty between them, that mirror’s gonna crack right down the middle!

But all that stuff is not why you go to see a Tyler Perry Movie!  Okay, that’s why SOME people go to see a Tyler Perry movie, but that’s not why I wanted to see this one!  If you’re someone who is enthralled by Tyler Perry as a SO BAD HE’S GOOD filmmaker (the aesthetic of which is basically incongruous elements being smashed together in a haphazard production), then you’re in luck because this shit is AMAZINGLY ridiculous!  Robert is working on this battery throughout the whole movie, and I get the sense that Tyler Perry doesn’t actually know how batteries work which leads to some rather interesting developments in the story.  Now to be fair I really don’t know anything about batteries either, but this character starts working on this battery in what, the early nineties?  No one’s gonna be working on a single battery design by themselves for that long; especially when innovations in green energy is where the market is headed as well as the standardization of rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries cornering the handheld electronics market which would have made anything he’s working on obsolete by 2000 at the absolute latest!  And he’s not just making any battery!  Oh no, this one dude in his den toiling away for EIGHTEEN YEARS is discovering THE SOURCE OF INFINITE POWER which will make billions, yet he ONLY tries to sell his idea to single venture capital firm and can’t get a job ANYWHERE else.  Speaking of how long he works on this, the whole concept of time is very awkwardly handled in this movie due to the fact that at one point we jump ahead eighteen years into the future which transitions the young Robert and Melinda actors (Ajiona Alexus and Antonio Madison) to their older counterparts, and it causes so many problems in the story; not just because it means we get a lot of “tell, don’t show” about their marriage, but also because the fact that we’re skipping so much time means that there are events that happen after the time jump that should have happened much earlier in their lives.  The venture capitalist company he wants to see his battery for example waits EIGHTEEN YEARS to tell the guy to stop standing outside their office and sending them letters every week; something that REALLY should have happened by year two but had to wait until right now so that it would fit in the story.  On top of that, eighteen years isn’t NEARLY long enough between what we see prior to the jump (clearly the early to mid-nineties) and what is PRESUMABLY modern day which is a period of time OVER TWENTY YEARS.  The whole movie has weird inconsistences like that, whether it’s the roommate who comes in and out of the picture, Melinda’s living situation as well as her college education gets changed without any fanfare, and plot points that are constantly being dropped on us the moment before an important twist or revelation to said plot point is about to happen.  We’re we SUPPOSED to know that both of Melinda’s sisters AND their husbands ran a catering service BEFORE it became the most important subplot in the movie!?  Was there a scene cut out where we find out how a particular bombshell of a plot device got stuck exactly where it needed to be for MAXIMUM DRAMATIC IMPACT!?  I mean this is STILL his best production by a wide margin and the movie works on both an individual scene level as well as the overarching story, but someone really needs to be supervising his scripts because there are way too many shortcuts, half-baked ideas, and continuity issues that are admittedly very hilarious to watch pop up on the screen but do very little to advance the guy’s credibility as a serious filmmaker.

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Did Robert actually learn how to play piano, or is that just something Tyler Perry thinks all rich people have?

That stuff is all pretty fun though and can honestly be a point in the movie’s favor if you go into it with the right mindset.  What really hurts this movie though is its tone because Tyler Perry doesn’t seem to really know what he wants to say about this movie or maybe he DOES but doesn’t know HOW to say it.  Whenever you make a Sexy Thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction, you’re always walking a very difficult line between compelling drama and misogynistic overtones, and Tyler Perry is just not good enough at this point to ride that line effectively.  It seems that his solution to avoid having an incorrect tone throughout is to make this movie as tonally disparate as possible hoping that at least ONE of them will work, but the end result just means that film is uncomfortable on SO many levels instead of being straightforwardly tone oblivious.  If you want to be generous, and I really don’t think he was going for THIS specifically, it can almost be seen as a deconstruction of THE WOMAN SCORNEDTM thrillers that Fatal Attraction capitalized on and many others have tried to recreate; even modern examples like Unforgettable and When the Bough Breaks.  Instead of one of these stories being told from the victim’s point of view, we’re seeing everything from THE WOMAN SCORNEDTM’s perspective which gives them a sense of context that is completely absent from those other movies.  She’s not an unstoppable force of nature with a dark past or a history of psychological issues; she’s someone who was a victim in her own right and feels the need to take back what was taken away from her.  So why doesn’t this work?  Well… I think Tyler Perry’s own politics and sense of morality gets in the way of making Robert the kind of bad guy you need for a movie like this.  He understands that Robert doesn’t have to hit her, rape her, or even cheat on her on a regular basis to be an abusive monster as his worst tendencies are basically apathy and disrespect; constantly focusing on his own project instead of being an active participant in the relationship, and more than willing to bleed her dry in his wild pursuit.  He’s even nuanced to a certain extent in that he GENUINELY (or at least BELIEVES he is genuinely) in love with this woman and wants the best for her, but he keeps getting in his own way and confuses his own selfish desires for what will be good for both of them.  HOWEVER, by the end of the movie it all becomes far too muddled of a message and feels a bit condescending and judgmental.  Okay, so we’re gonna venture into spoilers here because we do need to dive into the context of their situation in order to get to my point, so while I won’t spoil the ENDING, I will be spoiling what happened in their relationship leading up to the big ending, so jump ship now if you want to stay spoiler free.

We good?  Okay then!  So at some point after the divorce is finalized, Robert DOES manage to sell his invention for a PHENOMENAL amount of money and even goes back to Melinda to give her TEN MILLION DOLLARS for all the suffering he’s caused her.  He’s going to move on with his life and marry another woman who had helped him sell the SUPER BATTERY, and this is the point where Melinda goes from someone who was genuinely wronged to THE WOMAN SCORNEDTM we see in the trailers and in the therapist’s office.  To a certain extent, I get it.  The issue was never how much money he took from her, it was the genuine suffering she had to go through carrying his weight around for so long that even if he paid her back ten times over it still wouldn’t make up for that.  However, what’s the message here?  Robert, while certainly not a GOOD guy, has suffered and grown in the time since the divorce (the movie is framing it this way; not me) and he did give her that money which the film frames as a GENUINE gesture from the guy.  He’s STILL a nuanced character at this point in the movie, but Melinda is not.  She complains about being considered a cliché at the beginning of the film which is a fair point (black women’s anger is used against them constantly) but then Tyler Perry goes SO far overboard into making her a cliché (obsessing over their Facebook posts, cutting the eyes out of pictures of Robert’s fiancé, dancing in her under-furnished room lit by a red light to show she’s lost her mind), that you really can’t take her pain and the injustices done against her all that seriously anymore.  Yes, it helps that we got a whole movie’s worth of context before we got to this point, but the ending of this movie is still indistinguishable from Glenn Close’s last stand in Fatal Attraction.  On top of that there’s a line at the end that just REALLY feels like it’s the message Tyler Perry is getting across in here, and it’s honestly kind of gross.  At one point, Melinda is shouting at Robert’s fiancée about how second wives get to reap all the benefits of the time and effort that the first wives had already put in, and it starts to feel like Tyler Perry’s view of this WHOLE movie is about how sacred marriage is, which… no.  Hell no.  The problem with their relationship wasn’t that they didn’t spend enough time together!  MAYBE if Robert or Melinda were mature enough as characters to realize that their marriage wasn’t working and ended it a long time ago, then it wouldn’t have gotten to THIS point.  Or hey!  Even WORSE would be the idea that Robert MAY be an abusive person (the movie seems to think this which would make it hard for Melinda to have left earlier), but that staying together would have STILL been the better choice!  I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into this, but with everything we saw in the movie leading up to the ending and the way that Taraji P Henson goes completely off the deep end after he makes his fortune is less a careful examination of toxic relationships and men being too oblivious of their own actions, than it is trying to say that men are scum and will turn women into murderous monsters unless of course they stay married in case one of them gets a shit load of money out of nowhere.  I’m sure there are OTHER ways to read this movie and I’m certainly not the first person to go to in order to dissect the nuances of a shitty relationship, but it took a rather cheesy and sincerely gripping drama into something that they WANTED us to take seriously which makes the whole thing very uncomfortable to have sat through by the time the credits role.

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So she’s supposed to be out of her mind at this point, yet she still felt the need to buy red tinted light bulbs to JUST to make sure there’s no confusion about her state of mind right now!?

The best thing I can say about this movie is that out of ALL the ones I’ve seen from Tyler Perry (a grand total of three including this one), it’s easily the one that can stand on its own as a film rather than as an extension of his own brand.  Unlike those two Madea movies, it has a competent story, solid production values, and a star that captivates our attention every time she’s on screen.  It’s still got some flaws that I feel are ones Tyler Perry is STILL struggling to overcome (if he’s even trying to at all considering how successful he is even at his current skill level) and I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a GREAT movie, but it’s a worthwhile step in the right direction; and unlike the Pure Flix surprise hit, I’m ACTUALLY glad that this guy is improving.  Maybe it’s worth checking out in theaters if you go in with the right mindset of this being a spectacularly cheesy and rather trashy little thriller, but you won’t be missing much if you wait for a home release.  Then again, I wouldn’t want to cross Taraji P Henson in ANY way, so you might want to go see this anyway just to stay off her shit list.  Did you SEE what she did in Proud Mary!?

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If you liked this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony [Blu-ray]

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