There was a time in my life when I enjoyed Tyler Perry movies. I was young enough to find Madea to be hilarious, and the stories to be engaging enough to ignore their flaws. To this day, I still can very much so enjoy the early works of his as the benefit of nostalgia is on my side. As of late, Perry’s work hasn’t been as memorable. Love them of hate them, his movies elicit a response from people, but in the past few years, nothing has ever even gone that far, save for a few truly bad reviews of his two “Boo! A Madea Halloween” movies. When the trailer for “Acrimony” dropped, I didn’t watch it immediately, and it wasn’t until I sat through it before a film in November that I actually sat through it, and I was surprisingly impressed. I’m a huge Taraji P. Henson fan, and regardless of what she’s in, I’ll typically see it; I won’t always like it, but I’ll see it. But the fact that I saw a trailer for a Tyler Perry film and thought “Hm…that could be good,” means something.
And even if the film still isn’t particularly good, it’s still one of Perry’s best.
Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) is a Pittsburgh woman undergoing anger management therapy at the order of a judge in her divorce case against her husband, Robert (Lyriq Bent). She begins to recount the road that led to this contentious court order, starting from when she met Robert in college, and the turmoil their relationship wrought on her, her family and her entire life. This account brings the audience into understanding how Melinda has been driven so literally insane by her tumultuous marriage.
Let’s talk about the good: Taraji. P. Henson. There is no film where Henson does not completely command the screen in every scene she’s in, and “Acrimony” is no different. Even though I found myself often frustrated with the character of Melinda, I found her character to be quite interesting, mostly due to Taraji’s slow spiral of madness shown with her. Perry’s writing isn’t particularly subtle, so there aren’t a ton of things for Henson to work off of when it comes to her character’s ticks, but Henson finds a fire and a uniqueness to the role that no other actress could’ve done in the role.
The writing, as mentioned above, is perhaps the weakest element of most of Perry’s work, and much of the film is incredibly rudimentary. The lack of finesse and detail in crafting this story makes so many plot elements feel more convenient than a 7-Eleven in walking distance of your apartment. The film goes overboard in its finale (literally), and it really takes you out of a lot of the more engaging parts of the story. Because in an outline, the film is schlocky fun. Fun that, however basic it might be, has some surprisingly unpredictable elements, some that completely flip the script of what I was expecting from the film come its final act, and I respect that. It’s just too bad much of the film treats its audience like relative idiots.
At 120 minutes, it’s quite long, and could use a cut of about 20-30 minutes or so. I think much of the build-up to its finale hurt the film when the finale ended up being, however batshit, not quite as satisfying as it would’ve been in a shorter film.
Which is a real shame because I feel like Perry works best under the guise of an R rating. The second film of his to have such a rating, “Acrimony” might just be his second best film to date, with his first R rated film, “For Colored Girls,” easily being his best (perhaps since it was an adaption of someone else’s work?). Without the parameters needed to keep the film at a PG-13 and below, Perry has more free reign to do what works best for the story, and despite its issues, it breathes much better because of it. The film is also his best film in terms of aesthetics. It’s a steely gray film, with neutral undertones everywhere else, but it’s a surprisingly clean and attractive film that really has Perry putting forth a nice image. Some shots really felt like they needed to have another take done due to some small inconsistencies, but it’s more of a nitpick, especially when given the improvement behind the camera seen…
…For the most part. While much of the film does look nice, some parts look…well, terrible. I’m not sure why, but in some scenes, the characters are walking with a green screen behind them, for no other reason that I can think of other than that Perry wanted to use a green screen. They look superimposed into the image, which brings you out of the film so terribly that it’s almost laughable. What actually is laughable is the few visual effects used at the end of the film. Some of these effects look as if they were presets simply slapped on in Adobe After Effects 20 minutes before the final cut of the film was done. In fact, knowing that the film was shot in eight days, according to Henson, the fact that the trailer dropped a whole five months before release shows that the final cut was done long before now and that this mostly just came down to laziness.
But there is fun to be had in “Acrimony.” It’s salacious, corny fun that is best experienced in a crowded theater (my 11 a.m. showing on a Friday was sold out) with a few drinks and some good girlfriends. Beyond that, “Acrimony” is a film that feels like that movie you watch on a plane when you have your own seatback television and you’ve already seen the other movies offered by the airline. It’s not atrocious by any means, but it’s not particularly memorable or well-written enough to stay the test of time. I applaud Perry for going out of his comfort zone and doing something darker than he normally would, but I think there’s a great deal of growth as a writer and director that needs be had for something like “Acrimony” to succeed more as a film. I think he’s in the right direction, but I also think it’s time for some real evolution in Perry’s work. Just because it makes tons of money doesn’t mean that it couldn’t use some work. Still, “Acrimony,” however clunky it may be, does represent a good first step.
Directed by: Tyler Perry
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart, Jazmyn Simon, Ptosha Storey, Ajiona Lexus, Antonio Madison, Bresha Webb, Danielle Nicolet, Nelson Estevez, Kendrick Cross.
Runtime: 120 minutes.
Rating: R for language, sexual content and some violence.
Lionsgate and Tyler Perry Studios present, a Tyler Perry Studios/Lionsgate production, “Acrimony”