Bo knows baseball. And Tyler Perry knows melodrama. This writer/producer/director/musician/actor has for the past few years been delivering armfuls of plays and movies, and plays that became movies. From Diary of a Mad Black Woman to Madea's Family Reunion to Daddy's Little Girls, he's cut straight to the heart and soul of what makes people tick, talk, scream and sob by elevating the fine art of the melo-dramedy.
Why Did I Get Married? is the big-screen adaptation of Perry's stage play of the same title. And just like all of his other work it packs both an emotional and a moral wallop—mixed up together with touches of crass levity.
The plot is simple: Four couples get together for a retreat in the Colorado mountains so that each can ask the question, Why did we get married? It's not a cynical exercise in eye-rolling regret, either. This is the real deal. The couples (most of them at least) hope to dig up the old feelings and the old reasons for falling in love and getting married in the first place, and use them to renew current relationship conditions.
The characters are creative: Despite the fact that Perry uses stereotyping and overstatement to make some of his points, the people he creates feel like people. Each couple and each person in each couple comes to represent something that will ring true to somebody watching. Terry and Dianne are divided by her Blackberry addiction, not to mention the fact that he wants more kids and she doesn't. Mike and Sheila are at the end of their matrimonial rope because he's a certifiable cad and she's desperately struggling with her self-esteem. More accurate than saying Marcus and Angela fight a lot would be to say that Angela loudly speaks her mind—usually while she's drunk, which is often—and Marcus does his best to ignore her. Gavin and Patricia are struggling to survive the blame game after the death of their toddler son in a car accident.
The crux is love: That's a staple of many, many movies; what's unusual here is the emphasis on the hard work it takes to keep it going.
The four couples grapple with some hefty issues: Infidelity. Juggling career with home and family. The loss of a child. But the vast majority of the characters want to make their marriages work in spite of these challenges. In these folks' lives, "Until death do us part" actually means something. It takes a while for it to sink in, though.
[To dig into this, we'll have to uncover a few plot points, so consider this a spoiler warning]
When Patricia and Gavin lost their baby, Patricia hadn't buckled him in properly. So she suppresses her guilt, and Gavin hides his impulse to blame. It all comes to a head before dinner one day, leaving "perfect Patty" wailing in grief, crying on Gavin's chest that she's not strong enough to deal with the death.
"You don't have to be strong by yourself," Gavin says, also crying. "Let me be strong for you."
When Angela belittles her ex-football-playing husband in ultra-shrewish fashion, painting him as a good-for-nothing kept man who's in it for her money, Marcus finally stands up for himself, telling Angela he's with her because he loves her—no other reason.
"I was with you when you had nothing," he yells. Later she makes dinner for him—a rare treat—and they pledge to stay committed to one another.
Dianne, a successful lawyer, sacrifices time with Terry and their child to concentrate on work. She doesn't want any more kids and secretly undergoes an operation that ensures she won't. Terry is shocked that they never even talked about the operation. "When you get married, you give up the 'I's' for 'us,'" he tells her. Eventually, she understands.
Even Sheila, whose marriage doesn't survive so happily, gets a happy ending—by learning to respect herself.
"I spent too much time letting people take care of me," she says. I gotta find my own way."
Tyler Perry's films typically showcase on-the-ground spirituality, and this one is no exception. Sheila is the most visible spiritual light, mentioning prayer almost every time she's onscreen. On the way to the retreat she prays, "I'm going up this mountain to save my marriage. You are the ruler of all things. Jesus, make it all right." When her husband tells her that they're through, the local hunky sheriff leads her to a mountain overlook. "I pray [here], I scream, I yell, do whatever I need to," he tells her. "It's just me and God." Sheila answers that, without her husband, she has no life: "I can't even pray about it." But it's implied that she eventually does.
Several exclamatory references to God also carry with them a subtle note of reverence. For instance, when Sheila and the sheriff grab some food at a local diner, Troy suddenly kisses her. "Oh, Jesus, Lord have mercy, God," she exhales, adding that she has a sudden and real urge to pray. When Sheila runs into the woman who stole her man, Sheila tells her that instead of wanting to beat her up, "All I want to do is pray for you. But don't tempt me."
Sheila later admits that, because her husband thought her so disgusting, she thought God must think about her the same way. "I thought God had given up on me," she says.
But faith is seemingly an important part of most of these people's lives, many of whom mention the importance of prayer. Even Mike, the film's slimiest character, offers a nod to faith when he asks Sheila to forgive him: "Isn't that what the Good Book says?"
Gospel songs play in the background. And a final speech further emphasizes faith's importance: "The greatest achievement for any human being is to love God, yourself and others."
We don’t see any sex, but we hear a lot about it. One example: At a critical dinner party featuring all the main characters we learn that a) Mike is having an affair with another woman at the table; b) Dianne had her "tubes tied" without her husband's knowledge; c) Terry gave their daughter a paternity test to make sure the child was his, because he was intimate so infrequently with his wife; d) Marcus had an affair with another woman and contracted a venereal disease; e) Angela also had an affair.
"I got my shot," she hollers, referring to a dose of antibiotics she received to zap the VD. "I was just waiting for you to say something."
Two of the four men have remained faithful to their wives and chastise the others for not doing so. Terry and Gavin insist that Marcus fess up to Angela. But Terry also seems to understand Marcus' infidelity—a little too much—perhaps because Angela seems so difficult to live with.
"If you're going to step out on your wife, what's wrong with using some protection?" Terry tells him.
Mike, meanwhile, actively encourages Terry to cheat on Dianne. "If your wife ain't giving you some, you got the legal right to get some," he says. "It's the law."
Women get decked out in slinky, cleavage-revealing dresses. Sheila wears a shiny silk nighty to try to capture her husband's attention. Angela lounges on the bed seductively, trying to get Marcus to roll over and romp. Also in bed, Terry tries to get Dianne interested.
Angela regularly hurls racy insults. Her favorite? Accusations of whoring.
When Mike tells Sheila their relationship is over and walks away, Sheila coldcocks him with a bottle of wine—which shatters on impact. Angela also has a volatile push-and-shove confrontation with Marcus' ex-wife in Angela's beauty parlor, but they don't throw any punches. Terry hurls Dianne's Blackberry against the wall.
Crude or Profane Language
A good portion of the film's foul language quotient is used up in that one beauty parlor scene, where words like "ho" and "a--" are flung with gusto. The balance consists of occasional interjections of "d--n," "h---" and "b--tard." God's name is misused about 10 times; Jesus' name once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Angela likes her booze. She clearly has a drinking problem. And while she gives up the stuff at the end (after she guzzles two full glasses of wine "for the road"), her addiction seems to be strictly laugh-fodder.
"Could you lay off that for a while?" her husband pleads on their way to Colorado.
"Could you go to h--- for a while?" she answers.
We see her drunk. And we see the guys get drunk while licking their wounds in a bar. Wine is served at every meal.
Other Negative Elements
Mike treats Sheila worse than most cat lovers treat their neighbors' dogs, callously and routinely making fun of her oversized figure to her friends and to her face. When she dresses up in a silky nightgown for him, he cruelly mocks her:
"It looks like you're wearing a d--n tent."
Dianne seems to be a pretty inattentive mom. We learn that she rarely spends time with her daughter, and it's up to one of Terry's co-workers to pick the little girl up from school when Dianne forgets her.
"I wrote this movie after a really bad relationship," Tyler Perry says in Entertainment Weekly. "I thought I wanted to get married, but that relationship changed my idea. But who knows? The right situation, absolutely."
That bright sense of optimism wrapped up inside painful pessimism goes a long way toward explaining Why Did I Get Married? These couples are Hurting with a capital H. But as the credits roll, you're filled with feelings of hope ... and gratitude for the things that do go right in your life.
"With the divorce rate being so high," Perry told newsblaze.com, "and with the family needing some sort of uplift or boost, I think that's where I'm going to be for the next few movies—talking about family, relationships and marriage. And I thought the best way to start is with marriage."
The Atlanta-based moviemaker is indeed all about trying to give a little uplift and boost. In his words, "What message can I bury into a great story?" Here, it's that a good marriage takes a great deal of work, but it's worth every tear, every ache and every minute.
One caveat: Among other influences in the film, an advice-column-style scene dominated by Patricia gives the idea that divorce is certainly an option if a spouse decides the relational negatives outweigh the positives. In it, she tells Dianne and Angela to write down all the good they can think of about their respective husbands on one side of a sheet of paper, and all the bad on the other. If the good list is longer than the bad, then stick with it and make it work, she instructs. But if the bad list is longer, then, well, trade up to a newer model.
In his story Perry builds in the idea that marriage is an 80-20 proposition: 80 percent fulfillment, 20 percent lack thereof. But if you go chasing after that 20 percent by indulging in an affair, his characters agree, you'll lose the 80 and end up living with only the 20. This movie is a little like that. It's an 80-20 proposition: 80 percent of it bears a moral message of hope and love and commitment, but 20 percent indulges in too-casual thinking about divorce and sex, mild swearing and slightly rough conversations. Now, if you dropkick the whole thing and try to find greener grass across the theater hallway, you'll probably wind up with just the 20, but that's another movie review for another day.