The McCarters are one of the many marriages of convenience that form the thread of high society. Helen McCarter, in a voice over, even says so herself: husband Charles is a man in love with appearances. It's confirmed right after his award has been given to him and has dropped her in their enormous Atlanta mansion: he orders her to get out of the car and she does.
So how couldn't she see his abandonment coming? How could she not know that seeing all her items boxed outside was a sign that something terrible was about to happen? How could she confuse the new clothes in her closet rack as being hers, and go one step further to lovingly wait for Charles to get back and spend a quiet romantic night? I found it shocking, but not surprising, when he comes home with his mistress and in a violent scene, throws her out of the house and into an uncertain future.
If Tyler Perry had built upon this premise and had Helen find herself and her feminist voice without resorting to the gimmicks he gives us here, DIARY would have been a complex character study. Once this prologue is over, the movie shifts into a completely different gear and in having Helen being driven to her Aunt Madea's house. Anyone who is acquainted with the outrageous Madea will know that for a movie relating to issues such as spousal abuse, she is NOT a character who could bring anything to the story. I can understand that a drama like this needs some outlet for humor to avoid maudlin, but Madea? The moment she storms onto the screen DIARY screeches to a halt. Sure, Madea teaches Helen to get in touch with her anger -- after all, she's the wife and was so for 18 years (implausible seeing how young both Kimberly Elise and Steve Harris look), and is entitled to half of Charles' assets. She even takes a chainsaw into play and saws Charles' belongings, each and every one, stressing her point. Not before doing a bad parody of Faye Dunaway in the wire hanger scene from MOMMIE DEAREST as she rips the gowns Charles has bought his new paramour, and I wondered why? I answered myself that maybe Perry loves MOMMIE DEAREST that much and felt that it suited Madea. Oh, it did -- just not for this movie.
And this isn't the only bad decision turn DIARY makes. There's the inclusion of Madea's foul-mouthed brother Joe. There's Brian, Helen's cousin, also unhappily married to Debrah, a drug addict trying to Do The Right Thing. And there's the shady dealings of (a not so law-abiding) Charles who filmed in deep shadows resembles an episode of LAW AND ORDER and makes the movie change drastic tones again because it seems out of place in Helen's plight. And speaking of Helen, her story takes not one, but two awful left turns that are completely inconsistent to character. First, she begins working as a waitress and reluctantly accepts the courtship from hunky factory worker Orlando (who drove her to Madea's house at the start of the movie and happens to be associated with Brian via friendship, a little hokey, and another mistake from Perry), but once Charles gets shot in court (also unlikely, but with the recent Atlanta events in which the judge was killed, plausible) and becomes paraplegic, she becomes vindictive. Consistent? Well, from the viewer's point of view, yes. Considering the way she was dragged from her hair out into the cold at the start of the movie, yes. That her revenge is equally dragged on for too long? Absolutely. (Not to mention the blatant mention of MISERY, as if we the viewer did not catch the visual reference.) The second inconsistency comes when Christian values are introduced and the need to forgive in order to move on comes into play. Suddenly we're flooded with images from a gospel choir, Charles experiences a miracle, and Brian's wife comes walking in singing of rebirth, no doubt a device which can work in a stage play (and can give the first of three climaxes), but not here. When all this is done, we can see the ending coming a mile away, and even that seems as fake as fake fur, but necessary for a happy ending appealing to a large audience.
I also feel that the actors try to handle the material even though it seems to me they're all miscast. Elise and Harris are too young to play a couple married for close to twenty years -- Angela Bassett and Denzel Washington would have brought their characters' natures out more easily but probably were unavailable. Shemar Moore plays his role as if he were back in THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, but then again, his part was written to fit a romantic triangle much in the style of old Hollywood soaps a la Franchot Tone, patiently waiting for his woman. Tamara Taylor brings pathos to her characterization of Debrah but does not belong in this story. Cicely Tyson has two small scenes and reaffirms her welcome back to the acting business.
Tyler Perry is the star of DIARY as writer, producer, and playing three roles (the ubiquitous Madea, Joe, and Brian). I can appreciate his movie in segments and respect its honesty, but as a whole, it's all over the place. (And including what looks like a skit in which Judge Mayblean Ephraim calls upon Bobby Brown for an offense and we hear 'Whitney' shrieking "Bobbay! I love you Bobbay!" in the background doesn't help.) He clearly loves camp movies and spells them out to us. Paring a story down to its bare essentials, however, makes a perfect, air-tight viewing, instead of packing too much into two hours. Perry has a lot going for him, and I think he'll create better scripts instead of focusing on one caricature which as a secondary player was overbearing.