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Tyler Perry’s newest feel-good flick, ‘Good Deeds’, arrived in theaters February 24, 2012 and took the number two spot behind ‘Act of Valor’ with a weekend gross of $15 million: his second lowest opening gross. These numbers beg the question of if the audience is growing tired of Tyler Perry or if it is simply a result of the slow movie season.
‘Good Deeds’ tells the story of a wealthy entrepreneur named Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry) and the complicated relationships in his life from his family to his romantic interests. It is the tenth film which Perry has directed, written, and starred in. However, like several other films, it is not in the Madea continuity, which might explain its less-than-stellar opening as the Madea flicks tend to be more widely seen.
To date, Perry’s highest grossing film is ‘Madea Goes to Jail’ (2009), which, like the films before it, starred many well-known actors and had a modest budget that helped put him at the top of Forbes’ list of Highest Paid Man in Entertainment in 2011. However, it is because of his Madea-centric films that Perry is such a polarizing figure. He seems to have a reputation for being either loved or hated.
The main issue with Perry is that while his films are funny and heartwarming, they are also incredibly formulaic. His critics often note how nearly every film after his first, ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ (2005), is a replica of a basic storyline. There is always a down-on-his/her-luck protagonist who reconnects with family members, finds a new love interest, and reaffirms his/her faith with God by the end of the movie. His films rarely vary from this formula and when they do, his fans will often pass if his infamous character Madea does not make an appearance.
For instance, consider ‘The Family That Preys’ (2008), which I consider to be one of two arguably good Tyler Perry films. ‘Preys’ does not adopt the typical Tyler Perry format of a struggling black protagonist who just needs God and a shiny new love interest to overcome. The story is about two families—one black and one white—that have a history together of money, lust, selfishness, greed, and friendship.
The film is notable for having white characters, which is rare in Perry’s movies, and for portraying both good and evil in all of the characters. There are stand out performances from the entire cast, but especially Sanaa Lathan, Alfie Woodard, and Kathy Bates. However, ‘Preys’ opened at $17 million and managed to make $37 million before leaving the theaters for good: Perry’s least grossing films behind the abominable ‘Daddy’s Little Girls’ (2007).
Perry’s films are praised by his fans for putting a spotlight on the often-overlooked issues in the African American community, but perhaps this is part of the problem.
These audiences are looking for the same thing over and over again—big laughs from Madea and an easy to swallow message—so when Perry ventures outside of the norm with movies like ‘The Family That Preys’ or ‘Good Deeds’, fans do not feel the same compulsion to watch. What does this mean? Either Perry needs to stick to what his followers want — or should he move out of his comfort zone more often?
‘Good Deeds’ is still a young film and may have some momentum in the coming weeks, but as it stands, it may be the start of Perry’s downfall. He is certainly an intelligent, experienced filmmaker but the unpredictability of audiences cannot always be overcome by giving them the same thing they are used to.
It is often when directors take big risks that the pay off is excellent. With any luck, Perry will consider this in the future and impress both his fans and his critics with something new.