‘Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club’ Review
As if in response to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar acceptance speech contention that audiences want to see films with women at the center of them, Tyler Perry’s latest, ‘The Single Moms Club,’ focuses on four women struggling, often with humor, to deal with single parenthood.
Unfortunately, Perry’s gift at creating opportunities for actresses to lead their own movies does not extend to creating good movies, much less characters. A stacked deck of one-dimensional demonstrations of female oppression, explored – and overcome – with Perry’s typically well-intentioned but misguided notions of empowerment, ‘The Single Moms Club’ ranks among the filmmaker’s worst work yet.
Nia Long (‘The Best Man Holiday’) plays May, a newspaper reporter trying to get her career as a novelist off the ground while raising her son alone. Called to his prep school for a parent-teacher conference where she learns he’s sprayed graffiti on the walls, May is forced by the principal to team up with three other mothers, including Jan (Wendi McLendon-Covey), the steely publisher who just rejected her book, to plan a spring fund-raiser in exchange for their kids not being expelled.
Hillary (Amy Smart), a feckless mother of three dealing with a recent divorce, invites May, Jan, Lytia (Cocoa Brown) and Esperanza (Zulay Henao) over to her house, where the quintet quickly bond, thanks to a bottle of wine and some good old fashioned commiserating. Anointing their group “The Single Moms Club,” they begin regularly meeting one another, as each deals with the challenges of parental guidance, ex-husbands, new boyfriends and career ambitions, eventually finding that there are few men in the world who are better at providing support than another woman.
As usual, Perry’s complete and total lack of subtlety renders virtually all of these characters’ problems as cartoonish: from the opening scenes, these women are repeatedly discriminated against and oppressed by their male counterparts, but always in the most simplistic and obvious (and unbelievable) ways possible. At her office, Jan’s ambitious young protégé Kramer (Brandon Olive) undermines her chances of making partner literally by repeatedly saying, “you have a daughter,” which their boss automatically accepts as a reason to promote him instead. Esperanza’s vindictive ex-husband Santos (Eddie Cibrian) has long since remarried, but he deliberately undermines every one of her parenting decisions and threatens to withhold child support if she ever gets a boyfriend.
Needless to say, it isn’t that women aren’t marginalized in these sorts of situations – they indisputably are. It’s that the real form of that marginalization is much more understated, and insidious, than in the way that Perry defines it. (As is, Jan would be able to file suit against her company, and easily win, for sexual harassment.) But the preconceptions and expectations the characters have of each other – such as when Jan describes Lytia, to her face, with language that Ron Burgundy would probably find problematic – are equally one-dimensional, thanks in no small part to writing that defines each of them according to the most obvious, clichéd qualities imaginable. Lytia literally seems to live on the wrong side of the tracks, for example, while the camaraderie between the women evolves in a way slightly less sophisticated than in ‘Bringing Down The House.’
But even worse is the movie’s feeble stabs at sub-sitcom romantic humor, such as when Hillary tries to enlist her hunky neighbor’s help for the mostly forgotten fundraiser with the clunkiest and most conspicuous double entendres you may ever hear. In fact, although the movie makes a concerted effort to keep the female characters’ focus on their relationships with each other, its preoccupation with each of them finding a man – not to mention one who offers them sage wisdom about how best to live their lives, or forces them to shake off the shackles of responsibility in order to enjoy a little romance – completely undercuts its message about their independence or strength.
Weirdest of all, the movie seems to have a trailer, for itself, embedded halfway through the story, and one which is evidently born of a novel May writes about their group, in one night, and which provides her with professional vindication at the end without her even knowing about it beforehand. All of which feels like yet another example of Perry’s fearless, oblivious creativity, which undermines its own messages and overshadows its insights, not to mention executes the most minimal demands of storytelling with dubious, wildly inconsistent competence.
Ironically, I’m usually a fan of Perry’s, in spite of his many shortcomings as a technician and storyteller, thanks to his commonsense attitudes about relationships and occasionally powerful insights into race and gender relations. But other than putting women on the screen with a focus that virtually no other filmmaker will, or maybe can, he’s accomplished nothing encouraging or empowering with this film, because he simplifies and reduces them to the sum parts of their ethnicity, economic status and relationship options.
Ultimately, ‘The Single Moms Club’ gets only one thing right – that the notion of female characters dealing with real-life struggles is indeed appealing. But given that Perry’s comedic interpretation of women amounts to putting himself in drag and threatening to knock the hell out of anyone who crosses his character, it’s possible that he may not be the right candidate – working as writer and director, anyway – to create stories of empowerment that resonate with all audiences, much less those viewers who see themselves in the characters onscreen.
'Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club' is now playing in theaters.
Todd Gilchrist is a film critic and entertainment journalist with more than ten years of experience working in Los Angeles. A member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd has contributed to a variety of print and online outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Boxoffice Magazine, Movies.com, Variety, The Playlist, MTV Movies blog, and IGN.com.