This was my first Tyler Perry movie. Since it did not include Madea among its characters I thought it would be less over the top than his other films and plays. If it was, I didn't notice.
The plots were predictable; the characters unrealistic; the humor contrived or non-existent.
The film starts with four separate couples heading off to meet for an annual get together. This year, they've chosen a snow resort for their reunion. Within the first five minutes of the movie, as Sheila, an overweight woman (Jill Scott), is forced to leave the plane (shades of Kevin Smith's adventure on Southwest Airlines), while her derisive husband stays on board with his lover, you already know how their story will end. Writer Perry doesn't seem to understand that increasing the husband's cruelty towards her doesn't enhance our compassion. It only makes you question the couples' friends who haven apparently been witnessing the husband's verbal abuse since they all went to college together --which was at least 15 years ago. Mike is not merely a bad husband. He's a sadistic person. Many women let themselves be victimized by ogres. The lower their self-esteem, the more they tolerate -- so the degree of Sheila's subjection is not the unbelievable part of the story. What's unbelievable is that 6 of her (supposedly) caring, intelligent and wealthy friends would stand by and watch what she endures, with no more than worried look on their faces.
Once they learned that Sheila's husband Mike happily let her drive through a snowstorm alone, while he flew to the group's "couple's retreat" with his mistress, they should have kicked him out of of the cabin --and their lives-- immediately. Instead, the strongest reaction is from Angela, the resident loud mouth, who satisfies herself with insulting Mike's mistress with age old "whore" jokes, while no one in the party discusses the very real danger that Sheila might be facing on the road alone. They should be organizing a search party, not sitting around their cabin discussing their various marital problems.
The characters who aren't too loud, too weak, too stupid (Angela's husband who has contracted an STD and doesn't want to tell her) and too passive are too . . . too! Janet Jackson (who looks older than the rest of the cast, even though they are all playing college buddies) plays Patty, a therapist and lecturer who has chronicled the group's annual meetings in a best-selling book. She dispenses advice in a patient, earnest manner that is more textbook counselor than human. In this film, even quiet earnestness is overblown. The good characters are two dimensional prototypes, while the raucous ones are slapstick stereotypes.
The dialogue is full of exposition, offering details that are so straightforward that we would have guessed them based on other movies, even if they had never been explained with childlike obviousness in this one.
The movie peaks when everyone's so-called secrets are exposed at a group dinner. A vengeful Mike rats everyone else out, when his own poorly concealed affair is revealed. His malice includes telling a still-grieving mother (Patty) that her husband blames her for their infant son's death. The fact that the other characters remain friends with this vicious man after such a hurtful act (for which he never shows a drop of remorse, because the movie doesn't seem to find any necessary), indicates that they're just as flawed as he is.
But the baby blame is not all. At the same dinner, each of the spouses publicly learns that the other has been lying about something. Sobered, the party quickly disbands and everyone heads home. Whatever laughs the movie held are left behind with the snowy mountains as the plot devolves into a soap opera, with each couple struggling with their differences separately, finding solutions that are even more shallow than the underlying conflicts were strained.
For instance, one character had her tubes tied years ago without her husband's knowledge. On his part, he had a dna test performed on their daughter to ensure that he was the father, behind her back. When the wife finds out about the dna test, she bluffs and lets him think his suspicions were justified and that she did have an affair. He eventually moves out of the house. When she goes to ask him to return home he lets her think he too has had an affair and has impregnated his nurse with twins, just to test her love for him. She passes the test, is determined to take him back anyway, he reveals and was 'just kidding'. She laughs, apologizes to him profusely and then they embrace in a "happy ending" move so unearned, disturbing and dysfunctional, it leaves the audience more horrified than pleased.
Patty and her husband work out the resentment and guilt they've long felt over their child's death with one big cry. Of course, one can't blame them for reconciling. With friends as oblivious to their pain as theirs are, these two really need each other!
In short, with all the couples stumbling their way to a false harmony, the last hour of the film feels like two.
The only moment I wanted to cheer in the movie was when Sheila's new love interest, Troy, avoided a cliche "I think you're beautiful just the way you are," line and instead told her, "If you don't like the way you look, then change it. Stop putting yourself down. It's not attractive and it makes me uncomfortable for you." While Sheila's ultimate transformation didn't really prove that change can only come from within, Troy's surprisingly candid words were at least helpful for viewers who were tired of seeing Sheila weep.
I've seen Perry lauded for his unique blend of madness and message, but here I find the mix clumsy and unsettling. Tragic twists are handled with a comic lightness that insults any viewer who has bothered to care about these people.
I think Tyler Perry was reaching for The Big Chill with this movie and he succeeded: it is a big chill.
It's not a bad film. It's just more mediocre than I would have guessed from the above-average reviews. If this is one of Tyler Perry's best, I can only be relieved about the other bullets I've clearly dodged.