During the Academy Awards of 2009, Lindsay Robertson and I picked our favorite nominees, and then we made a bet. Whoever lost the Oscar Pool would have to go to see the latest Tyler Perry movie (and the number one movie in the country) Madea Goes to Jail. I lost that bet because Slumdog Thiefenaire made a mockery of the Best Sound Mixing category. But, fair is fair. My name is my motherfucking name, and my word is my bond. So this Sunday, I went to the movie theater and saw Madea Goes to Jail. By myself.
I wasn’t the only white person in the theater. There was one other white person. But I was definitely the only white person by himself at the theater. Which is fine. Actually, the other white person in the theater was sitting with a friend in the same row as me, which made me strangely uncomfortable. I was only in that row because that’s where the best available seat was, duh, but somehow it felt like we had both gotten the White Gazette that morning and read the instructions about which row white people must sit in at Madea Goes to Jail. Obviously, there’s nothing actually suspicious about two white people sitting in the same row at Madea Goes to Jail, big deal, but, you know, eracism.
There were a couple of other things that made me mildly uncomfortable:
1. My notepad for note taking
2. My snack of a fresh fruit salad
I hid them both until the lights went down. I’m such a fucking lame weirdo.
Anyway, this movie:
Madea Goes to Jail has two storylines. The first storyline is about Madea, who eventually goes to jail. For a long time she does not go to jail, and I thought maybe they made a mistake in naming the movie, but then she does go to jail, and I was like, OK, you named the movie correctly I guess. The other storyline is about a junior prosecutor in the DA’s office who is reunited with a childhood friend who is now a prostitute, and spends most of the movie trying to help her stop being a prostitute despite the fact that helping her is driving a wedge in his relationship with his fiance, another junior prosecutor in the DA’s office.
I had never seen a Tyler Perry movie before, so I didn’t realize how bipolar they are. The Madea storyline was mostly Nutty Professor style comedy, based on how funny it always is (?) to watch men pretend to be fat women, which is about what I expected. But the prostitute-junior prosecutor storyline, which was actually most of the movie, was serious drama. Well, serious-ish. I mean, at a climactic moment when the junior prosecutor is telling a social worker that he feels responsible for his friend being a prostitute because of how in college he unwittingly invited her to a football team gang rape, his tearful confession elicited as much laughter in the crowd as the part where Madea tackled a cop. So it’s hard to tell sometimes.
This movie was pretty terrible…but it wasn’t bad like anything that I had ever seen before. It wasn’t even a movie like anything that I had ever seen before. From the narrative structure to the cinematography, the whole thing was just…different. The closest thing I can compare it to, in all honesty, was watching a foreign film. Or at least a foreign After-School Special. Does this mean I have to go to jail now?
Obviously, I am not the target audience. I don’t find extended cameos from Dr. Phil to be funny, and I don’t find heavy-handed melodramatic moralizing to be touching. All of the writing was pandering and lazy and obvious, and people loved it. Of course, they also loved the trailer for Dance Flick, which played before the movie, so not liking Tyler Perry movies is probably only one of many differences between me and that audience. Not that Tyler Perry needs me to like his movies. Dude is buying a PRIVATE ISLAND. But as condescending and white and post-colonial as this may sound, I did find it interesting. Thank you for letting me observe you in your native habitat, Tyler Perry audience! Your culture is so odd and exotic to me! Just like mine is to you:
Barack Obama 2012. Bye.