Madea-free rom com suffers from Perry's usual melodrama

Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls

on February 14, 2007 by Tim Cogshell
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Monty (Idris Elba) loves his three daughters, Sierra, Lauryn and China, more than anything. Though the girls live with their maternal grandmother, it's Monty who's taken care of them financially and emotionally since his divorce from Jennifer (Tasha Smith), their no-account mother. When Granny dies, Jennifer shows up with her drug-dealing boyfriend, all ho-y looking, and starts causing trouble. With the help of a fancy (and one thinks deliberately white) lawyer, Jennifer wins full custody, leaving Monty and the girls bereft.

Madea, the central character from actor/writer/director Tyler Perry's series of stageplays and adapted films, is not in Daddy's Little Girls, a project conceived, written and directed by Perry for the screen in which Perry also does not appear, in drag or otherwise. This strikes one as a necessary caveat, given that much of Perry's audience knows and appreciates his work through the crass matriarch of those plays and movies, and such appreciation accrues to a, ahem, unique set of tastes.

In any case, Monty, an earnest mechanic by day, takes on extra work driving for his boss, Willie (Louis Gossett Jr.). This is when he meets Julia (Gabrielle Union), a high-powered (and one thinks deliberately black) lawyer with whom he gets off to a bad start in typical romantic comedy fashion. In short order, Monty must humble himself and ask for Julia's help in getting his girls back, and things play out as they do in all didactic message movies with a romantic twist. Her girlfriends think he's beneath her; he teaches her to loosen with blues and booze; there are a lot of speeches about family and community; and the belittled and besotted ordinary black man finally gets a fair shake.

As for fans of Madea, even without the presence of Mr. Perry in drag, the style of the prolific (if often prosaic) writer/director can be found all over Daddy's Little Girls. The movie reaches the heights of melodrama with narrative cliches that border on the surreal. Jennifer is not just a bad mother who abandons husband and kids. She's a gum-popping, bling-wearing, evil she-bitch of a bad mother, whose central motivation is to be mean to her ex and abuse her kids. The sisters McClain, who play Monty's daughters and in real life are actually sisters, aren't just cute and sassy, they're so cute and sassy you just want to kill them. The same might be said for every character, circumstance and narrative device in this movie—they are all peaked and played for emotional manipulation on the scale of a Bible story. Old Testament. As is the case with the Madea plays and films (of which there are more to come) Daddy's Little Girls requires a unique set of tastes, and only you know whether or not you're among this, uh, special group. Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Gabrielle Union, Idris Elba, Louis Gossett Jr., Tasha Smith, Tracee Ellis Ross and Malinda Williams
Director/Screenwriter: Tyler Perry
Producers: Tyler Perry and Reuben Cannon
Genre: Romantic comedy
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, drug and sexual content, some violence and language
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: February 14, 2007

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