16 August 2007 | Buddy-51
Noble intentions, weak execution
No one could ever accuse Tyler Perry of being the soul of subtlety - either as a filmmaker or as a storyteller. His set-ups are often painfully contrived, with characters who are two-dimensional and stereotypical, and messages that are pat and overly simplistic, to put it mildly. Yet, in this era when too many black characters are either rappers, street thugs, prostitutes or drug dealers, Perry speaks to audiences yearning to see a more positive vision of the African-American experience portrayed on screen. That's certainly an admirable goal, but the problem is that Perry himself is not above indulging in many of those very same stereotypes if, in so doing, it helps him to get his message across.
In "Daddy's Little Girls," the first ethnic stereotype Perry admirably endeavors to shatter is that of the absent or indifferent urban black father. His protagonist, Monty, is a divorced dad of three who works as an auto mechanic in a garage run by none other than Louis Gossett Jr. Monty's ex has pretty much flown the coop, leaving the kids to be raised by her mother who is currently dying of lung cancer. After the woman's death, Jennifer decides she now wants to raise the children, even though she's living with a gangsta' boyfriend who's so low he even sells drugs to the kids in the neighborhood schoolyard. This sets up a fierce custody battle between Monty and Jennifer with the three girls caught in the middle.
As stated previously, it is commendable that Perry wishes to make Monty a model for young male viewers to emulate, but in order to establish Monty's bona fides as a caring father, the filmmaker for some reason has found it necessary to ratchet up the mother's vileness past the point of believability. In fact, Jennifer makes Cinderella's evil stepmother look like June Cleaver and Carol Brady in comparison. Indeed, she is so over-the-top in her villainy that one wonders how such a seemingly level-headed and sweet-tempered soul as Marty could ever have been fooled into marrying her.
Perry doesn't do much better with the main female character, a snooty, high-priced African-American lawyer named Julia, who looks down her nose on poor working-class stiffs like Monty who takes a position as her much-abused chauffeur in order to make a little money on the side. Monty soon discovers that all the over-stressed Julia needs is a good man to bring meaning to her sterile, empty life. Thus, with the character of Julia, Perry manages to insult blacks, career women and specifically black career women in one fell swoop.
The movie makes some interesting points about the role class consciousness plays in the black community, with wealthy blacks sometimes more dismissive of their less well-off counterparts than are wealthy whites. Unfortunately, this theme is played out in the context of a fairly formulaic romance between Monty and Julia, with the "little girls" of the title reduced to not much more than walk-on roles in the story. Idris Elba is appealing and solid as the sincere, hardworking Monty, while Gabrielle Union does what she can with the poorly written part of Julia.
The narrative also suffers from what first-year screen writing students (or "Crash" deriders) like to refer to as "coincidence overload," with characters bumping into one another at all-too-convenient moments or just happening to learn crucial bits of information from news stories on TV.
"Daddy's Little Girls" starts off with the best of intentions, and there are certainly some poignant, touching moments to be found in the film, but the movie is so fixated on pandering to the emotions of its audience, especially in the melodramatic final reel, that most of the goodwill one brings to the project has pretty much evaporated by the time the closing credits come rolling by.