The work of Tyler Perry, with its wild mood swings between near-Shakespearean extremes of broad farce and intense melodrama, plus its sudden bursts of song and/or religious fervor, has been both hugely successful and critically questionable. The writer-director’s latest play-to-film, “Why Did I Get Married?,” more smoothly incorporates humor within a soapy self-help framework, as four couples meet in the snowbound wilds of Colorado for an annual marriage checkup. Though fans might miss Perry’s genre-exploding daring, the excellent cast injects enough pathos and zing to keep pic percolating, and the presence of Janet Jackson should assure healthy B.O. building on pic’s $21.5 million opening weekend.
While this year’s earlier Perry effort, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” piled all the world’s woes onto one twosome, “Why Did I Get Married?” divides the psychological problems of marriage among four distinctly different middle-class couples, plus two spare singles. Perry (divesting himself of the radical accoutrements of his popular, pistol-packing, zaftig Madea) essays the pleasantly straight part of Terry, a pediatrician married to workaholic lawyer Diane (Sharon Leal, “Dreamgirls”).
Taking on the burden of pic’s outrageousness in high old style, Tasha Smith portrays Angela, an accomplished (if often sloshed), loudmouthed businesswoman who never lets a little thing like civility interfere with her take-no-prisoners candor. Nor does she miss an opportunity to belittle her ex-footballer spouse Marcus (Michael Jai White), who is apparently inured to his wife’s constant put-downs.
Janet Jackson charmingly, if somewhat blandly, incarnates Patricia, an award-winning pop psychologist and author who launched her career with a book describing her and her friends’ annual marriage-examining getaway. She and architect hubby Gavin (Malik Yoba) enjoy the perfect union — except she still cannot face or even discuss the trauma of their only child’s death.
The men are generally kind, supportive types, while the women display all the problematic behavior — inability to talk about important issues, thoughtless verbal abuse, runaway careerism — usually ascribed to men. But the most dysfunctional marriage, which the film takes it upon itself to undo and repair, is the traditional one between Mike (Richard T. Jones), a philandering, sadistically hurtful husband, and his passive, overweight wife Sheila (singer Jill Scott, infusing her first major perf with a rare sweetness).
At a fateful dinner party, the camera circling ominously, Angela, outraged that Mike has brought along his mistress (Denise Boutte), triggers an avalanche of aggressive secret-telling that leads to disaster. Rest of pic ties up the unraveled loose ends, culminating in a more lavish, prestigious and celebratory dinner party.
Despite the improbable ease of pic’s genteel psychoanalysis, the characters are thesped with enough depth and emotional investment to make their problems feel legit; even the overly simplistic resolutions of the second half register as satisfying happy endings. Nevertheless, one might miss the color and energy of the incongruous farce elements Perry customarily throws in to shake up the nonstop navel-gazing and bourgeois self-improvement.
Perry has cast two singers, Jackson and Scott, in key roles, yet has excised the numbers that made the original play a quasi-musical. Meanwhile, the tune-heavy soundtrack features an almost constant sampling of romantic songs by everyone except Jackson and Scott.
Tech credits are polished, though the contrast between interiors and exteriors sometimes seems forced and unnecessarily stagy.