Monty James is an honest mechanic and chauffeur slogging through a lean life in inner-city Atlanta. His three little girls—Sierra, 12; Lauryn, 7; and China, 5—are Monty's inspiration, and he labors to provide for their needs. The girls live with their grandmother, but Monty visits regularly.
Until, that is, Grandma dies of lung cancer—sparking a nasty custody battle between Monty and his ex-wife. Jennifer, the girls' delinquent mother, has taken up residence with the neighborhood drug dealer, a self-styled gangsta named Joe. Though she hasn't spent any time with the girls recently, she demands custody. Her request is granted when the young ladies accidentally set Monty's apartment on fire while he's working.
Monty's only hope to win them back is a proud lawyer (he calls her "stuck up") named Julia, whom he occasionally chauffeurs. The haughty, uptown legal eagle refuses to help at first. But gradually she realizes how desperate Monty's plight is—and falls in love with him. As they battle for custody of "daddy's little girls," Monty and Julia also have to jump hurdles of class and others' perceptions of their relationship—not to mention Joe and Jennifer's escalating attempts to wrest the girls from their father permanently.
Monty James isn't perfect, but he's conscientious. His daughters are the apple of his eye, and he'd do anything for them. He supports the girls and spends time with them. They, in turn, return that tender affection. Monty tells Julia that parents should be willing to sacrifice their dreams for their children's sake. He also works hard for his boss, an aging mechanic named Willie. Monty plans to purchase Willie's garage down the road, and he makes installment payments on it each month.
Julia has a tough exterior, but it cracks when she realizes the peril Monty's children face. Despite bad counsel from her worldly friends Cynthia and Brenda, Julia insists that what she wants isn't casual sex but someone to "hold me, rub my feet and make me feel safe." Gradually, she realizes Monty can provide those things, despite the fact that he's not in her income bracket. Because of that disparity, both Monty and Julia have to extend grace and patience as they relate across this class divide.
Willie praises Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Billie Holiday for their uniting influence in the African-American community. He says, "We used to be a people who took care of ourselves." He believes it's the neighborhood's responsibility to stand up to the drug problem. Eventually, neighborhood residents do just that (though violently).
Many characters give lip service to Jesus, but the faith of some seems more sincere than that. On the one hand, Julia thanks Jesus during a blind date that seems to be going good—for once. Jennifer, barely able to resist the urge to beat her daughter, tells her, "You better be glad I know Jesus." And Willie tells Monty that he's gonna need help from "God and two more white people" to get custody of his girls. Monty, meanwhile, earnestly prays for God's help in raising his girls. And his Aunt Rita tells him she's praying for him, exhorting, "The devil never wins unless you don't fight."
Monty, Willie and Julia's administrative assistant, Maya, attend a church worship service. A choir sings about Jesus, saying, "Stand on His Word. He loves you." Another song (elsewhere on the soundtrack) pleads, "Lord, please help me." The pastor preaches from Galatians 6:9: "Let us not become weary in doing good." When you're struggling, he says, it's not time to throw in the towel, but to hold onto God's faithfulness. The pastor believes that when you're about to faint, you're close to God's miracle for you—so it's time to keep the faith. This message inspires Monty to persevere. But it also raises big questions about how the film concludes, a matter I'll deal with in my "Conclusion."
A drunken Julia shares a steamy dance with Monty at a bar. The scene reads a bit like a striptease as she removes her belt, her shoes and an outer shirt revealing a skimpier tank top beneath; the camera lingers on her chest and torso. When the pair returns to her apartment, Julia initiates a sexual encounter. (They begin kissing on her bed, but she gets sick from the alcohol and demands that Monty leave; he pounds the bed in frustration.)
In another make-out session, Monty removes his shirt and the camera focuses on his physique. (He's also wearing a tank top.) When he asks Julia if she wants him to stop (referring to their physical relationship), she says no. We never see them waking up together in bed, but the implication is that after they drop out of the frame their sexual relationship, um, progresses.
Monty discovers a dildo in Julia's medicine cabinet. Julia's girlfriends sport Sex and the City-style attitudes as they repeatedly urge Julia to "get laid." One of these women is shown in bed with a man; spaghetti straps over her bare shoulder are visible. Many female characters wear immodest outfits that are either skintight or cleavage-revealing. On a blind date, Julia's rude companion assails her with lewd sexual come-ons. Another date turns out to be married. Insults such as "slut," "whore" and "tramp," along with crude slang terms for sex are tossed around.
[Spoiler Warning] We learn that years earlier Monty was convicted of raping a 16- or 17-year-old. A flashback shows us what happened (without getting explicit in any way). Monty, a star athlete, had sex with a young white woman who claimed to be 18. When her dad catches them in bed (we see the girl's bare shoulders), she claims he raped her. A confusing TV report later indicates he was falsely convicted, even though dialogue indicates he's still on probation.
Monty and Joe engage in several violent scuffles. The last comes after Monty deliberately rams Joe's car (with Jennifer inside too). It's a realistic-looking—and violent—collision. Monty staggers to the stunned drug dealer's car, yanks him out and pummels him at least 10 times before several of the dealer's henchmen arrive and start hitting and kicking Monty. Then the gathering neighborhood crowd attacks the thugs in an all-out street brawl.
Jennifer slaps China, and we hear that Joe has been hitting China because she won't stop crying. (She shows Monty her bruises.) Jennifer slaps a man who owes Joe money; Joe's goons also hit, slap and kick him. Monty's daughters witness—and are petrified by—this violence. We also discover that Willie has been cut by a burglar's knife. (He's wearing a bandage.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several characters smoke. And Jennifer is rarely seen separated from her cigarettes. People drink beer, wine, mixed drinks and shots. Julia downs at least three shots at a bar, and it's implied she has more as she gets very drunk. Afterward, at home, we hear her vomiting repeatedly.
Joe sells marijuana and crack (he's eventually arrested), and his operatives peddle their wares and recruit kids across the street from the church. Joe threatens to kill Monty if Sierra doesn't start selling marijuana. She ends up in the school principal's office for trying to do so, but her mother and Joe "get her off." Jennifer also offers Sierra a drink. A drunken man is shown passed out on a sidewalk. And even though she's dying of lung cancer, Monty's mother-in-law apparently still smokes. (We see an ashtray full of cigarette butts.)
Other Negative Elements
Jennifer is utterly self-centered, and she fails her daughters in every way possible. In addition to exhibiting zero concern for their welfare, she tells Sierra, "I'm gonna wipe those sweet dreams out of your head" and, "It's time you started your own hustle." Her No. 1 rule for the girls? "Don't get caught." She initiates nasty confrontations between herself and Monty in front of them. And she compares Monty to a slave because of his service-oriented job.
Julia, too, is quite self-centered initially (though not as awfully as Jennifer). She treats Monty like a servant, ordering him around and even uttering a racist slur under her breath.
One of Julia's dates complains about white people getting better service from their Asian waiter (whose race he also mocks). Perhaps because of such encounters, Julia and her compatriots lament the lack of good black men. In response, Cynthia and Brenda urge Julia to relax her standards.
Though the film encourages us to side with the townspeople against Joe, in court their refusal to tell the truth about his fight with Monty still constitutes a lie.
Just as he has done in his Madea franchise, Atlanta director Tyler Perry returns to themes of race, religion, morality and family in Daddy's Little Girls. This time, he's left the crass comedic matriarch at home, choosing instead to focus on one man's attempt to raise his girls in a tough environment.
In the process, Perry challenges stereotypes about inner-city life. Contrary to some people's racist assumptions that all urban black males are deadbeats (an attitude adopted by Julia's friends and even Julia herself), Monty is a responsible father who puts his children's needs above his own. Perry also combats stereotypes about Christians by giving his characters faith and taking their participation in church seriously. The faith community is depicted as a counterbalance to the pernicious, destabilizing presence of drug-dealing gangstas whose thuggish lifestyle and influence the film both lampoons and rejects.
Given these positive themes, it is discouraging to watch as characters' faith fails to translate into decisions that demonstrate real trust in God. [Spoiler Warning] After Monty hears his pastor's fiery message on godly perseverance, for example, we see him praying. The preacher's words have obviously connected with him. But they don't stop him from getting in bed with Julia (a sexual sin that's already cost him dearly).
Neither do they prevent his vigilante attempt to deal with Joe. Instead of letting what the preacher calls a "manifestation of God" solve the problem, Monty violently takes matters into his own hands—a move the film wholeheartedly approves when it shows that nothing but good comes from his actions. The neighborhood is mended. He gets his girls. He gets the girl. And he escapes any and all punishment for his actions.