Last weekend I ventured to the theaters to see Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds with my parents. Watching it got me thinking about the empire Perry has erected over these past 6 years since Madea first exploding on the big screen in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Despite regularly being dismissed by the critics, his films regularly open as either first or second place at the box office and end up turning a tidy profit before home video release. With a track record where all his films end up in the black, why is he not a bigger force in Hollywood?
2012 will test his starring power with him taking over for Morgan Freeman in Alex Cross, the first lead role in a film he hasn’t written. But regardless of how this goes, Perry has a tried and true business to fall back on. I, for one, am rooting for him.
I was first recommended Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman from my commander over a holiday break while I was in the Air Force. I fell in love with Madea and the world Perry had created. After recommending it to my parents and sister, I found a fellow fan in my friend Tori. From there, I became hooked.
With all of Perry’s films, they follow a simple course. In a world where films are budget close to $100 million, Perry creates smaller, more intimate fare. Like fellow director Christopher Guest, Perry usually uses the same actors over multiple films. This troupe feel, helps carve the name into a brand all its own. When you see a film from Guest or Perry, you know the film will fit distinctly in that mode. In the case of Perry, the film will combine elements of drama, comedy, faith, and a splash of melodrama to give you a two-hour experience you won’t find with anyone else.
As the name Tyler Perry becomes more synonymous with successful films, Hollywood needs to pay close attention. So far, Perry’s imitators borrow too heavily from the surface story of his films. Perry has introduced a rise in African-American and minority films billed as box office viable. The problem this introduces is why Spike Lee was so against Perry’s films. Yes, the casts of Perry’s films are predominately black, but the film isn’t about the skin tone. His copycats miss this. Perry has a universal appeal that is ignored by many who believe that his films are all about race.
With all of Perry’s films, love and community are central themes. I can count many examples in which white actors anchor a film that ignores this, alienating the audience. I know skin color, gender, and sexual identity are issues that far from reaching equality they so rightly deserve, but love can wash all this inequality away. Perry has flawed protagonists who are struggling with the flawed love of their lives. He tells stories of revelation and redemption. They may not be for everyone, but his films deserve a larger audience than the loyal fans who flock to his films everytime one opens.
I know I’m known for being critical of films, and that is what a majority of these other entries consist of. Perry’s films, from a critical standpoint, aren’t masterpieces; but that is beside the point. His films are family-friendly tales that are as enriching as they are profitable. Of all the directors in cinema today, he knows his audience the best. His film ideas may start to wear thin as he continues to milk the sources he’s used so far, but I honestly believe he is capable of becoming Oscar nominated someday if he is willing to push himself creatively. A few years ago, he put his name on Precious as producer. Precious was a tale that was a more graphic and real take on many of the same themes Perry tackles in his films. Hopefully, one day we’ll see his star rise even higher than where he is now. For my family (diehard Perry fans), we hope so.
Good Deeds is any indication, Perry doesn’t need Madea to make an engaging film. In fact, I think he really opens things up creatively when his signature character isn’t in the picture. Of all his non-Madea roles, this is my favorite (though Michael Jai White made the Why Did I Get Married? movies pretty comical). He hones the story into a concise and interesting story that takes a look into the chasm between the have and have-nots, which is especially poignant given the constant reminders we experience in the news today about the 1%. I highly recommend Good Deeds to anyone who is willing to give Perry’s films a shot (3 out of 5 stars). Of all the movies that have come out this year, this is the first release to give me something to think about. And in the January/February movie schedule, that is something incredibly lacking. A solid film that only deepened my appreciation and passion for his films. If I were to work in film, I’d send my résumé in a heartbeat. Edward Burns would be the next place I’d apply. Filmmaking is evolving, and these men know where it is going.