I Can Do Bad All by Myself
Biologically, fear is critical for our survival. Fear warns us of danger and helps keep us safe. It's healthy to fear fire, heights and large, angry thugs wielding baseball bats.
But sometimes our fear doesn't just visit us in times of need. Too often it can overstay its welcome and linger, half hidden, for a lifetime. We can find ourselves living in fear—too scared to take healthy risks, too cautious to care for someone else. And, after a while, something very strange happens: We assume that if we're not frightened, we must be happy.
If you asked April if she was happy near the beginning of Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself, she'd probably say yes. She might even believe it. She has a house (though it's slowly crumbling from neglect). She has a job (singing at a nightclub). All her bills are paid and her immediate needs taken care of by her lover (who's a married man). That's happiness, right?
If it's not, why does she feel so miserable when change starts knocking on her door?
It begins with the kids—April's 16-year-old niece, Jennifer, and younger nephews, Byron and Manny. They arrive on her doorstep out of the blue, after their caretaker grandmother (April's mother) simply disappears.
April's next visitor, a pastor, asks her if she has room in her house for a traveling handyman who just arrived from South America. He could pay for lodging by fixing up the place, the pastor says.
These houseguests are, for April, a disaster. Her lover hates kids, and she's not too fond of them, either. And a handyman? C'mon.
And then, one day not so long after, the pastor knocks on April's door again. He has bad news: Her mother—the children's grandmother—is dead.
April's fear fully wakes. Suddenly, her life is filled with terrifying complications that threaten everything she has. And the fear is telling her that she should—no, she must—shake loose of those children. And the nice handyman, too. Because her life with them is simply too unpredictable—to scary—to embrace.
All of Tyler Perry's films are, essentially, morality tales, and I Can Do Bad All by Myself may well be his most unabashed. April sits at the center of this melodrama—a selfish, high-strung waste of a waif who is slowly being taught that she was meant for something better.
We learn that she bears horrific emotional scars from her childhood, which may help explain her attitude. But the film never excuses it. Time and time again, people tell her to stop drinking, stop smoking and start trying to care for other folks once in a while—advice she shrugs off until she quite literally has a come-to-Jesus moment. After that, she embraces her sister's children as her own—as well as the hefty responsibility of raising them. She punts her evil boyfriend. (Her punting style lacks grace, though, so I'll get back to that later.) And she finally opens herself up to a loving, satisfying, healthy relationship.
Her handyman, Sandino, is perhaps the film's most positive character. He buys insulin for diabetic Manny, fixes up a room in the house where the children can sleep, comforts April after she learns of her mother's death and is just generally an all-around good guy. He offers a bit of sage wisdom, too: After the children are punished for bad behavior, Sandino gently tells them, "All your decisions, your choices, they all have a price to pay."
Madea (Perry's very popular stock character who appears in most of his movies) gets in a few homilies, too. When Jennifer confesses that her life has been pretty miserable so far, Madea says, "You've got a whole lot to smile about. You're living." She tells Jennifer that she's a very pretty girl and should learn to enhance her beauty with a smile or two. Jennifer doesn't believe her, in part because her clothes are shabby. "Clothes don't make you pretty," Madea says. "They make you broke."
Seeing that the kids who have broken into her house to steal from her are hungry, Madea does what Jesus would do and feeds them. (Of course she promptly begins to boast about her good deed, and that's something He wouldn't do.)
April's story is one of hard-core redemption—social, moral and biblical. She's a lost sinner for much of the movie, but she's regularly reminded that God hasn't stopped calling for her. "I've been praying for you," the pastor tells her. And Sandino eventually convinces her to attend church with him.
There she finds salvation.
Perry doesn't skimp on the service, either. The scene—arguably the most critical, most effective one in the film—features the pastor (played by the Rev. Marvin Winans) preaching on the Luke 15 parable of the lost piece of silver and unleashing a glorious gospel message upon his enthusiastic audience.
"Pastor Marvin Winans' sermon was so powerful and his song was so powerful, I didn't cut it," Perry said during a roundtable conversation with Christian media outlets, including Plugged In Online. "I didn't edit it down. I left it as it is. And you feel the anointing when you are watching it."
At another critical juncture, we see the pastor and his choir—along with April singing by herself in her kitchen—begging Jesus for strength and clarity. In this film, faith is shown at every turn as a positive, life-changing force in people's lives.
But Christianity isn't treated reverentially in all instances. When Jennifer asks Madea to teach her how to pray, Madea confesses she hasn't talked with God since the last time she saw police lights in her rearview mirror. The spiritual lesson only goes downhill from there. Trying to pray, Madea spouts semi-related movie lines and song lyrics, then mashes up the story of Peter walking on water with that of Jonah and Noah. The latter patriarch she says sailed around in the St. Louis Arch.
Miss Wilma, a kindhearted churchgoer, is invited onstage to sing in the club. She tells the emcee that she's willing to "give my testimony anytime, anywhere," but he cuts her off and asks her just to sing.
April's lover, Randy, makes very disturbing come-ons to Jennifer. Then he attempts to rape the 16-year-old girl. (Clothed, he manhandles her and positions himself sexually before Sandino knocks him away from her with a board.)
We then learn that April was also sexually abused as a child.
April, under the influence of alcohol, accuses Sandino of being a child molester just like Randy.
They patch things up soon enough, though, and Sandino confesses his love for April. He admits that he'd really like to make love with her, and they share a passionate kiss. But their lip-lock culminates in a wedding, not a quick trip to the bedroom.
In quite a few scenes, April and other performers at the club and the wedding wear short and/or slinky dresses that reveal cleavage and/or the sides of their breasts. Randy's rear is briefly visible when he jumps out of a bathtub. We see Randy and April cuddling in bed.
After Sandino smacks Randy over the head, they trade punches as they crash through furniture and fight on the floor. (Randy's face winds up battered and bloody.) April pulls them apart, but then decides Randy hasn't had enough. So she lures him upstairs to take a nice, hot bath—then plugs in a radio and threatens to drop it into the water. It's a tense standoff that culminates in her actually doing the deed: Randy avoids being electrocuted by the skin of his bare backside a he leaps out just in time. We see him jerk and contort as he gets shocked a bit.
Before feeding them, Madea and her brother, Joe, pummel the trio of would-be thieves (who turn out to be April's niece and nephews). All three endure a verbal whipping, too, as Madea and Joe threaten to beat them, choke the life out of them and "shank" them. (These conversations are all intended to be funny, though I don't know how funny the concept of beating children should be.)
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word (with another close call). "H---" gets exercised more than 30 times, "d--n" about 25 times, "a--" a half-dozen times. God's name is misused once or twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The club's emcee encourages folks in the audience to drink. But the movie doesn't. April spends most of her time with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, but the film in no way glamorizes either alcohol or tobacco use. Rather it uses these substances to show how far gone April is, how selfish she's become.
Joe makes a couple of longing references to marijuana. (He apparently uses it and has some stashed in his house.) That's supposed to be funny. But the film's other references to drugs aren't. Crack is deemed a doomsday drug of sorts, designed to destroy everyone who touches it.
Other Negative Elements
April tells Sandino that since she doesn't know him very well, she'll have to lock him up in the basement at night—never mind his safety if there might be a fire. Jennifer mouths off and is disrespectful to pretty much everyone. Joe tells fabulously unbelievable tall tales, and neither he nor Madea treat each other (or anyone around them) with much respect. For instance, Joe tells Madea that she needs to warn people when she's coming, because she's "got to ease that ugly up on people." And he's also fond of mocking Madea's heft. He thinks it's a riot when little Manny says "yes, man" to Madea instead of "yes, ma'am."
Randy directs barbed racial comments at Sandino.
We see Randy zipping up his pants after using the bathroom.
I'll be frank: Tyler Perry's movies are always a challenge to review. Plugged In often appreciates Perry's messages. But we squirm and fret over the problematic content he laces them with. Perry bluntly deals with sexual issues, isn't above titillating his audience with frank dialogue and revealing clothing, and injects unnecessary coarse language.
I Can Do Bad All by Myself doesn't let us relax a bit. The core sexual issue here—that of child abuse and the attempted rape of a teenage girl—far exceeds, thematically, the romantic sexual tensions we've seen in past Perry projects. And we can't ignore the fact that, if April had her way, Randy would have fried when that radio hit the water.
But the messages of I Can Do Bad All by Myself are as laudable if not more so than any to date. The sexual issues here are not extraneous flotsam, but a core component of the story—one that reminds us how serious and damaging sex crimes can be. And above it all, the film's spirituality soars.
When asked what he wants people to take away from this film, Perry said, "One word, hope. Just hope. Knowing that there is hope, that no matter what situation you are going through, there is hope. ... There is hope in every situation, and God forgives all those situations. It is all about hope."
Not many filmmakers pedal unabashed hope these days—they're more interested in fanning fear. Fewer still pair it with its natural partner, faith. And while this film is not perfect—Perry's never are—it does exactly what he wants it to do.