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Movie Review

After 18 years as a devoted wife and homemaker, Helen McCarter is physically dragged from her luxurious Atlanta home by her husband, Charles, to make room for his longtime mistress—and the kids he shares with her.

Alone and broke, Helen retreats to her old neighborhood and the home of her Granny Madea (played for broad comic relief by Mr. Tyler Perry in a female fat suit, gray wig and housecoat). The gun-toting, profanity-spewing, mind-speaking Madea pushes Helen to fight back. Offering more spiritual insight is Helen’s mother, Myrtle, who urges her to turn to God for help and the ability to forgive her husband.

Helen soon attracts the romantic attentions of Orlando, a hunky friend of her lawyer/cousin Brian. But just as she’s beginning to rebuild her life, a sudden act of violence throws her back into relationship—and conflict—with her not quite ex-husband.


Positive Elements

Helen’s large family offers her love and support, and Helen’s mom encourages her to be strong and to trust God, advising her to "stop thinking about what you think you've lost, and start looking forward to what you have to gain. And then reach out and grab it." Orlando helps Helen to learn to respect herself and to understand that some men can exercise self-control, and be kind and loving. Brian refuses to give up on his drug-addicted wife, while also refusing to let her manipulate him and their children. Helen eventually finds a way to forgive her husband for his cruelty. Additionally, ...

Spiritual Content

... Diary contains some of the strongest Christian messages I've seen on the big screen recently. Helen says that she always thought if she did all she could God would bless her marriage, and she tells her mother that Charles was her “everything.” Her mother reminds her, “God is your everything; no man should come before Him.” She explains that God gives women strength Helen hasn’t yet tapped into: “You need to wake up every morning and thank God for your life and ask the Savior to help you.” Towards the end of the story, Myrtle explains that God can deliver justice better than we can deliver revenge and that those we refuse to forgive hold power over us. Charles reminds Helen of a fact she used to often recite: “God has the power to show us who’s God.”

While dancing with Orlando, Helen prays that he would not be as good as he seems so she can resist falling for him. Later, he tells Helen that he prays for her more than he prays for himself. Later still, when listing Orlando’s good qualities, Helen mentions that he’s a Christian man. She and her family attend a black gospel church together where the pastor preaches that you need “not Buddha, not Mohammed, but Jesus in your heart.” During a final scene, most of the family comes together in a service to celebrate repentance and restoration of relationships.

Madea and her elderly brother, Joe, are not churchgoers, however. When Myrtle speaks of the peace of Christ, Madea grabs her gun and makes a quip about it being her "piece.” Referring to the Bible, she says that looking at all the red words makes her think Jesus talked too much; Joe says the Bible puts him to sleep.

Sexual Content

In helping Helen to evaluate what Charles owes her for 18 years of marriage, Madea asks if the sex was good. Helen says no. Joe looks lustfully at girlie magazines and at nearly every woman in the movie, often making crude comments. (He propositions Helen and her mother; his remarks include references to Vaseline and Viagra.) During the closing credits, Madea makes a joke about penis size, and Joe is shown working himself up into a sweat while watching an exercise show on TV. Brian's wife offers her husband sexual favors in exchange for him ignoring her drug addiction for a while; he refuses.

Though Helen and Orlando spend the night together on several occasions, we’re told at one point that Orlando chooses not to have sex with her (in part, because he’s a Christian). They do spend a fair amount of screen time kissing passionately.

Violent Content

When Helen refuses to leave her home, Charles physically drags her out and locks the door as she struggles, screams and cries. She later tells Madea that he hit her, and the two go back to the mansion together where Madea threatens him with a gun (and hits his mistress). Madea and Helen (comically) destroy much of his property. While ripping up clothes in a huge walk-in closet—and before taking a chain saw to the living room—Madea exclaims, "This is for every black woman who ever had a problem with a black man! Madea also hits Charles' mistress.

Charles, a lawyer, is shot by a client and becomes paralyzed from the neck down. The only person willing to care for him, Helen takes advantage of his condition to get revenge by physically abusing him (hitting, starving, nearly drowning) for several days.

Crude or Profane Language

Madea enjoys saying "h---"; we hear it about 40 times. Other swearing includes "d--n," "a--" and "bastard." "God," "Jesus" and "lord" are uttered as exclamations more than a dozen times. Women are referred to as hos.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Brian is separated from his wife because she has become a drug addict. (We see her strung out several times.) Joe smokes pot, and he encourages others to join him every chance he gets. (He even hands over his joint to Brian's wife.) Sadly, while the negative impact of illegal drugs on Brian and his kids is clearly portrayed, Joe's and others' marijuana highs are played for laughs. Charles is said to have “run coke” years ago before becoming a legitimate lawyer. Several characters drink. Helen and Orlando do so over dinner at a jazz club. And Helen drinks alone to sooth her pain. Madea smokes cigarettes often; Helen and others are also seen with cigarettes.

Other Negative Elements

Madea makes a racial joke about Asians. Joe passes gas for laughs.


The drama in Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman is as intense as ... well, a woman scorned. The comedy is as broad as a wisecracking guy playing an old lady who carries a gun in her handbag. And the themes are as diverse as marriage, betrayal, forgiveness and the power of God to change lives.

After Pastor T.D. Jakes saw Tyler Perry’s first stage play about healing from child abuse, he asked Perry to adapt his book Woman Thou Art Loosed as a play. Perry went on to create and star in a handful of his own—wildly successful—plays set in large black families, many featuring the larger-than-life Granny Madea. Diary is the first to become a film.

The result is an uneven mix of drama and comedy, romance and revenge. Though the audience I saw it with clearly resonated with the theme of man’s inhumanity to women, the characters are so one-dimensionally extreme that the story is almost pure melodrama. (The juxtaposition of bold Christian messages and harsh language, recreational drug use played for humor and family violence only accentuates the film's over-the-top feel.)

[Spoiler Warning: To discuss the issues raised by the film, we're about to give away part of the ending.]

In spite of jarring thematic companions and personalities, God is given credit as several characters make hard, positive moral choices. Helen does what seems humanly impossible: She sets aside her new love to care for her cruel husband through a time of tragedy. And eventually, she forgives him and watches as God humbles and changes him in ways she never thought possible. Charles even walks the aisle at church—and she joins him!

Then, just before the credits roll, she leaves him anyway.

Instead of cheering as she is reunited with her Prince Charming Orlando (in an awkward An Officer and a Gentlemen copycat ending), I felt sad to see this boldly Christian story cave to a “romantic” Hollywood illusion. I should have seen it coming earlier when Orlando proclaims to Helen in a rare moment of selfishness, “I deserve good things. I deserve a good life. I deserve you; you deserve me.” Given the chance to offer a solid, biblical message that even the worst marriage can be redeemed by the power of God, Diary instead buys into an underwhelming and too-familiar lie.

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