We have a very interesting conundrum with I Can Do Bad All By Myself by the great Tyler Perry. I love this movie as drama, as entertainment and as a story of forgiveness. I could watch it many times. However, this movie has no Enneagram beyond a forceful Switch. Basically, Perry has created a series of knock-out musical numbers stitched together around an emotionally-powerful character arc. Let me give you an overview of the movie and show you what I mean.
Credits roll over the first MUSIC number. (I’ll highlight musical numbers so you can see how many times they reoccur.) Our heroine April has a regular singing gig at a club. Taraji Henson as April is A-list work. Seriously, why isn’t this woman famous? Perry, as he often does, coaxes the performance of a lifetime out of his actor.
While credits still roll we see Madea in bed, awakened by the sound of a break-in. Three kids, hungry and unsupervised, are the culprits. Madea feeds and questions the two boys and teenaged Jennifer, played brilliantly by Hope Olaide Wilson. (Again, why isn’t this person famous?) They live with grandma, but she hasn’t been seen for four days.
When April returns from work we have the displeasure to meet her jerk, married boyfriend Randy. He is an ongoing person in her life, yet it occurs to me now that he is a kind of 2. He’s certainly toxic, although April doesn’t (yet) see this. Hold that thought.
If you don’t like Randy as a subtle 2 you can have Madea bringing the kids over to “Aunt April’s” as a definite sign of Two-Trouble. You can pretty much count on Madea to be an agent of trouble. Heh heh.
If either of these people are 2 moments, we are still sadly lacking in any sign of a 3. The next set of vignettes is all 4 stuff:
Sandino, an immigrant, arrives at the neighborhood Baptist church; Jennifer, stealing a needle, is caught by the pharmacist and brought to the Pastor; Pastor brings Jennifer back to April’s; Pastor sends Sandino, who needs work and lodging, to April’s; Sandino meets the kids.
Really, this is all just laying the pipe. I’m tempted to say that these vignettes are more 1-worthy if they were handled briskly.
We get a little more juice when April notices that Sandino, now living in her basement, cleans up nice. Just after this Randy comes “home”, adding an interesting dose of tension. Then we’re back to vignettes.
April heads out to work. The kids go to Madea’s to work off their debt to her and, in the process, learn respect. Miss Wilma, a church lady, shows up at April’s club. So far, so bland. Then Miss Wilma, played by Gladys Knight, is invited to SING. This is a showstopper, folks. All that’s gone before is only filler so that we could work our way to this moment. If this movie only exists to showcase the talent of the singers, it’s time well spent. Enneagram be damned.
That last sentence may have gone too far.
Back to the vignettes: Sandino starts refurbing a bedroom in April’s house for the kids; he and April fight over his initiative.
Then here comes the only clear-cut Enneagram moment:
Pastor and Miss Wilma come to tell April that her mama (the kids’ grandma and guardian) is dead. She had a brain aneurysm while riding the bus and no one noticed her for hours. When they did, she was past resuscitation. She was classed as a Jane Doe and finally cremated before anyone who knew her found out. Wow. This is a powerful scene.
After the Switch comes the 5, so I guess I now have two Enneagram numbers.
After April’s devastating news, she gets no love from Randy. Sandino, though, is able to comfort her. Zeh plot, she thickens.
Jennifer, after news of her grandma’s death, asks Madea to teach her to pray. The Bible “story” that Madea relates is maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
Mary J Blige, playing bar-worker Tanya, tells April to stop drinking. Then Mary J is called onstage to SING. Again, a showstopper. During the song, April imagines her mama’s death on the bus, all alone. These two songs (this one and the Gladys Knight one) will bring you to tears.
At home, April tells Jennifer that she and the boys can’t stay. April is still fighting the inevitable, as if she has any power in this situation.
More stuff, blah blah, that advances the Sandino romance.
Church. April comes in late, but she comes. A very lengthy and powerful MUSICAL number happens.
We’re nearing the end of the movie, so something that might be an 8-climax shows up.
When Jennifer gets Manny’s insulin from the fridge in the night Randy walks in and attempts to rape her. Sandino runs in and attacks Randy, saving Jennifer. April seems to believe Randy’s rape story (“she attacked ME, baby”) and takes him upstairs for a soothing bath. Then she tries to electrocute him, revealing that she had been raped but her mother had believed the man rather than her daughter. This seems like a turning point for April, who is normally tough.
But then she pushes Sandino away. And then she tells Jennifer that they can stay with her as a forever family. The motivation chain is kinda all over the place for me. This is what happens when you don’t have an Enneagram. Maybe this mish-mosh is emotionally-heavy 5 stuff still. I plow forward to see if a 6 and 7 are in sight.
No. Sandino, who can no longer stay after the way April treated him, says goodbye to the kids.
A more mellow April hears MUSIC from the church ringing throughout the neighborhood. We get an intercut singalong, basically. It’s powerful stuff, but I am too frustrated by the meandering to give the music its full due.
Sandino returns. (I think the church music worked its magic on him?) They admit that they love each other.
They kiss; they get married; Mary J SINGS; The End.
The Icky Love Stuff could have been an 8. A quiet character study will often have an emotionally satisfying climax rather than a big-event moment. Still, though, we have no 6 or 7 build-up to this either. April changes dramatically from a selfish, self-destructive person to a responsible adult who can love and be loved. Her arc is moving and believable. The songs are fantastic.
However, this movie could have been more. Here are my suggestions:
Sandino’s arrival, the role of the Baptist church in the neighborhood, the introduction to Randy, and April’s club job are all quickly established. Before, this all existed in a weird 4-land. Condense it and hit us with it right away, I say.
Madea and the break-in move here, and the return of the kids to Aunt April remain as the Two-Trouble. (Yay! Madea is a clear-cut 2 now!)
I have to invent this 3 out of whole cloth. . .
Show us the morgue. We strongly suspect that Mama is dead, even though the characters don’t seem to suspect it at all. Don’t give away the more emotional details that we’ll hear at the Switch. Just start the train in motion. Show the mortuary’s removal men loading the van with the draped body on a stretcher. We can see the lettering on the side panel. Let the van drive away, an image that can be mirrored at the 6.
Strangely, I think I would put the Mary J song here and I would leave the Gladys Knight, the stronger song, for later. I’m not sure why Perry picked the order he did; maybe he had an excellent reason. However, Gladys is your big gun. You save her for the knock-out punch. It seems obvious now that the two songs should overlay the 3 and 6. Perry himself suggests this idea.
Dang. It was right there and he didn’t grab it.
Everything else already happening before the Switch is fine. Randy is planted as a lecherous scum. Sandino is cute. Madea is helping the kids in her own . . . unique . . . style.
As I already described, the announcement of Mama’s death is right on the money here.
April tells Jennifer that the kids can’t stay. This should be laid out early on in the 5 so that the plot and character arc can move forward. The order as it stands in the movie is too squishy. Also, a clear statement from April lets Jennifer go to Madea with the true desperation move of asking if they can live with her and Joe. Comedy gold. And don’t forget to include Peter the Discipline who can’t walk on water because Jonah came by in the whale and distracted Peter from keeping his eyes on Jesus. Don’t ever forget to include Madea’s Bible story.
We have church, which softens April; Sandino grows closer to her; Let April push him away here, where it makes sense. Fear would have her nip the relationship in the bud. Sandino can move out. Isn’t this the traditional rom-com formula?
The Gladys song. April imagines Mama’s death on the bus, as she does in the existing movie, but let it be intercut here. The bus driving away from the camera is the mirror moment with the mortuary van from earlier. Not only did Mama die alone, but April has created a life for herself that is alone. Let that pain dawn on her.
What will April decide after the 6?
Will she ask Randy to leave? Will she admit that the kids can stay? Will she open up to Sandino?
Here’s my take:
Let the 6 continue slightly with the refrigerator scene. Randy attacks Jennifer. Let Sandino be in the basement, gathering the last of his things, so that he can rush up the stairs and save Jennifer. Have April come home from the club into the middle of this maelstrom.
Her 7 is to pretend that she believes Randy. Henson can handle this. She’s good enough to say one thing and think another, while the camera captures every moment.
Electrocuting Randy in the bathtub is a good climax. We like to see him suffer, naturally, but his evil is the catalyst for April to admit (and remember?) her own rape. I would like to see her absorb this information, internally realize why she’s pushed these kids away, and to take that and ask the kids to stay.
I love to see people get married, but I wonder if that’s the best choice for this movie. Sandino should return, and he and April should begin a relationship. Can’t he be on a handyman job for Madea at the end? Joe looks like he’d bugger up any fix he tried to make. Work in one of the songs here, too, but keep the ending simpler. Too many storylines resolved at the end of the movie as it is.
Except for the 3 moment I believe I’ve only re-cut the movie and not added much new. All the ingredients were there; they just needed a little shaking.