Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Tyler Perry’s Acrimony, which the prolific filmmaker wrote and directed, is a drama chronicling the troubled relationship of a couple from their first meeting, in college, through their eventual marriage. It is a complex story that requires a lot of nuance, but you will not find any of that here. Perry uses no subtlety whatsoever to tell his story. The result is a movie with a decent story, a mildly interesting attempt to divide audience loyalty between the two leads and far too many unintentionally funny moments. He shows some solid skill as a director, but his writing leaves a lot to be desired.
Empire’s Taraji P. Henson stars as Melinda who, when we first meet her, is being reprimanded by a judge for her anger issues. She is sent to a therapist to talk through her problems and that sets up the structure of the film as she takes us back through her entire relationship with Robert (Lyriq Bent). Henson narrates the story, which is shown mostly in flashback.
While in college, Melinda (played at this point by Ajiona Alexus) was a bad student struggling to find herself while living with her sisters. Young Robert (Antonio Madison) was smart and ambitious, but lacked the funds to take care of himself. Melinda had a sizable inheritance from her mother and Robert was able to charm her into taking care of him. Eventually, they get married and Melinda has to support them while Robert tries over and over again to perfect and sell a battery he is creating. There is constant tension between them because Melinda resents Robert for not doing more to support them. This comes to a head when Melinda has reason to suspect that he has been unfaithful.
Unsurprisingly for Perry, Acrimony (114 minutes without the end credits) is played at a very heightened level of melodrama. Though I am guessing his initial idea had a basis in reality, realism itself has no place in Perry’s world. Henson’s Melinda rails against the stereotype of the angry black woman, yet she also becomes that stereotype. Her uncontrollable rage sends the story in a direction that is inevitable while also being unfair to the character Perry has created. It turns her into a caricature and never deals with her as a person. Perry’s setup wants us to understand her, but he never figured out who she is.
Taraji P. Henson is an excellent actress. I praised her earlier this year in the otherwise underwhelming Proud Mary. She brings far more to this movie than it deserves, proving that she can be good in basically anything. There are close-ups of her face where you can see Melinda trying to take control of the hurt and anger consuming her and it is just fantastic. The best scene in the movie has her calmly smoking a cigarette while Robert desperately tries to explain himself to her. In these quieter moments, where Perry allows Henson to act the role, the movie is actually kind of compelling. But too often he gets in her way, over explaining everything, either through excessive narration or overly blunt dialogue.
This is not Henson’s first foray into Perry’s oeuvre (she has also been in 2008’s The Family That Preys and 2009’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself and she will be in his upcoming film The List) and perhaps she enjoys his over the top, soap opera style. Unfortunately, he is so all over the place in terms of tone and theme that, though it may have been enjoyable to make, it is not enjoyable to watch. He does some good things with his direction, in terms of staging and actor movement (there is also a really good shot that transitions the story from young Melinda to present day Melinda), but his writing needs some serious work if he is going to tell a good story from start to finish.
Tyler Perry is a fascinating guy who took himself from nothing into one of the most successful playwrights and filmmakers in the United States (he even owns his own massive film studio, Tyler Perry Studios, in Atlanta). He has grown very popular by servicing a base that has been tremendously underserved. I have the utmost respect for what he has been able to accomplish. I just wish he made better movies.
1½ out of 5
Taraji P. Henson as Melinda
Lyriq Bent as Robert
Ajiona Alexus as Young Melinda
Antonio Madison as Young Robert
Written and Directed by Tyler Perry