Tyler Perry is a successful filmmaker. Many film enthusiasts hear that statement and immediately become up in arms and begin to type their rebuttal to that definitive claim, but success in filmmaking has two different meanings. The first definition is the one we’re familiar with in that of crafting a qualitative achievement in which names like Spielberg, Anderson, Nolan, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Kurosawa fall under. The other meaning of the term is one that we as film lovers are not as fond of which is the more quantitative side of success with names like Bay, Snyder, Sandler, and Tyler Perry.
With the success of “Madea,” Meet the Browns,” more “Madea,” some more “Madea,” and now “Acrimony.” Tyler Perry is not only one of the five filmmakers who satisfies his audiences on every given investment, but one of the most profitable indie filmmakers in cinematic history. This entire paragraph is meant to build a context that Perry is not an abysmal filmmaker, in fact, he’s a successful filmmaker who hasn’t qualitatively found his niche but has repeatedly found his footing in commercial success. He’s reliable, efficient, low-budget, and consistently capable of creating returns on his and others investments.
“Acrimony” falls under Perry's umbrella of financial prosperity but is a continuation of his swamp of quality filmmaking. “Acrimony” is much like that of Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction.” Providing women with a cathartic release of filmatic vengeance, a scorned medusa stalking and terrorizing the man that done her wrong. While "Fatal Attraction" had sanity behind the lunacy of its heroine, "Acrimony" poses a question towards Perry's inability to justify his heroine's psychotic path of so-called vengeance.
Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) is that supposedly scorned woman. She begins the story being court ordered to receive therapeutic treatment for her violations of restraining orders, outbursts of wicked verbiage, and continuous mistreatment of her ex-husband. From there we dive deep into the melodramatic past of her former marriage that began on a rainy day in college as all original stories do, in which a younger Melinda (Ajiona Alexus) bumped into the man of her dreams, Robert (Antonio Madison), by happenstance. After her mother's passing, this new man seized his moment with a vulnerable young woman. Though that is admittedly the wrong time for any sexual activity, Melinda (Ajiona Alexus) falls for him nonetheless and begins seeing more of this boy.
With her mother’s $350,000 life insurance policy and a paid off house, Melinda (Ajiona Alexus) seems to have gotten a second chance at life. This new man in her life quickly reveals what appears to be his actual intentions though, asking for a new car, down payments on tuition, and investments into his mechanical engineering invention. As a man that has already cheated on her before, in which her response was to ram her Jeep into his RV home and flip it on its side by sheer force, it seems that Robert (Antonio Madison) is a leecher of the worst kind. He seems to be a changed man though, and he has to be to keep Melinda's (Taraji P. Henson) unhinged, violent, and evil side locked away. Eventually year pass, fights take place, and an older Robert (Lyriq Bent) is unable to make his dream a reality causing the continuous strain on the marriage to further.
Eventually, lies and deceit begin to drain the marriage of its final dose of life, but Robert’s years of work and faith in himself acts like that of an homage to Gabriele Muccino’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” as his dreams finally become a reality. Jealous of the lack of reward for her investment (despite the literal reward she was given by her now ex-husband) Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) jumps off the deep end in more ways than one posing an internally conflicting question of if we, the audience, should be cheering for her or fearful of her?
Perry always attempts to have a point with his moral plays, but the message behind "Acrimony" seems inevitably absent. The story seems to be playing on that vengeful emotion that women feel, the scorn that can be birthed from a man’s betrayal. But we never learn if this man betrayed her, we know that both of them were incredibly selfish in their marriage and we’re right to separate from one another. Her lack of confidence in herself and her husband led to a selfish endeavor of feeling deserving of more assistance. While she has merit in reacting that way, he is entitled to sticking to his dreams and making them become a reality. Are we supposed to choose between them, like a child caught in the middle? Isn't she supposed to support his dreams? Isn't he supposed to support her? We're caught in a dilemma where both sides are right. Right?
I don't believe so; Perry inevitably makes that decision for us by electing Melinda (Taraji. P Henson) as our protagonist and Robert (Lyriq Bent) as our antagonist. At least it seems that way. Perry places our attention on her, like that of Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) in "Ingrid Goes West" we watch her obsess, drink, and lose her shit. Unlike Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) though, the film never admits that Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) is crazy.
When the therapist asks if Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) has heard of "multiple personalities disorder," she brushes it off like Perry dismisses his critics. It calls into question whether Perry is suggesting that the woman is always right, despite her lack of rationality. Or, is he speaking through her as if we, the film lovers, are always wrong about his films? When these questions begin to surface, the screenplay starts to tumble down like a Jenga tower missing the right piece. Perry needs that piece to explain his irrational character writing, which calls into question is Perry the one with the multiple personalities disorder or is it the heroine he manifests?
His direction follows suit with his writing in the lack of ingenuity or sheer creativity to be found. Purple frames, slow pans, and stilted wide shots lead to a soap opera styled movie. Though Perry’s blocking of the actors can be noticeable to a trained eye, “Acrimony” maintains a lack of visual acuity to keep even the proudest supporter of Perry from being interested.
Taraji P. Henson continues her string of greatness as an actress. She is incredible in this role and maintains visceral lunacy that is only dwindled by the overdramatic writing given to her character. Her performance feels like that of a balloon being filled with air, preparing to pop, with only Perry’s writing being her hindrance. She has moments of wrathful scorn and chilling anger that will satisfy those who came to watch Taraji go ape-shit on someone, which does happen. Her fellow cast members fail to match her intensity though, they remain reserved, maybe even charming. That surging lack of charism formulates a vacuum in which Taraji looks like a star, as she always does, but the film seems like a nobody.
“Acrimony” is a perplexing film that seems to be missing its pivotal point of explanation. It jumps past reasoning and goes straight to the thrill of lunacy. Never satisfying, and never answering any of our questions, "Acrimony" seems to be another dud in Perry's column of film quality. Perry’s commercial success continues though, with “Acrimony” nearing a $20 million gross, it begins to beg the question which is more important? The artistic quality or financial gain?
“Acrimony” is not a good film.
But, I’m not sure if that matters to Perry anymore.