As Taraji P. Henson’s Melinda begins to spin her web of woe while puffing on a cigarette in a therapist’s office, she insists she is not a stereotype. She practically steps into the audience with these words, intending to deflect the gaze we typically put upon women in the stalker genre. That’s when a strange reality sets in. Schlock master Tyler Perry has actually stumbled upon a good idea for a film, a Fatal Attraction style thriller told from Glenn Close’s perspective. The problem is that no matter how many movies he churns out, Perry will always be Perry, and the disaster he manages to brew up from this premise is right on the edge of being impressive.
The target of Henson’s titular acrimony is her ex-husband, Robert (Lyriq Bent). He has spent their life together leaching off of her mother’s life insurance policy while he tinkers with a self-recharging battery he’s invented. It is certainly an engaging through line for an unhealthy relationship, but Perry’s aversion to subtlety leaves little room for shades of grey (despite his David Fincher-influenced color palette saying otherwise). Perry doesn’t give us a chance to live inside the deteriorating toll this relationship has taken on Melinda. He plays his hand almost right away, when he caps off a lengthy segment about their younger years, with Melinda capsizing Robert’s trailer with her car when she discovers he has cheated. This means their reconciliation (on both sides) makes absolutely no sense, leaving both parties in a deeply unsympathetic place when things start to go south again.
It certainly doesn’t help that Perry’s words have all the nuance of a wrecking ball. Characters say exactly what they’re thinking in the most verbose terms. While that prose allows Melinda a couple of deliciously venomous lines, it fails to suit a tale that’s meant to have a slow build to madness. Perry puts us so far ahead of his own story, making sure there is absolutely no suspense to be found. He wants us to side with Melinda, to subvert the tropes in a genre he sees as problematic. However, he’s created a heroine whose behavior is so reprehensible he instead turns her into a clown.
His direction is even worse, somehow not improving beyond a basic student level throughout 13 years and 19 films. Despite wanting to give his film the precise look of a classic thriller, his hasty shooting schedule leaves no time for craftsmanship. Every scene, even the ones where Melinda and Robert are happy, are coated in darkness. This isn’t the carefully controlled darkness of a proper neo-noir, but the darkness which comes from a shoot day losing light by the minute. Even something as simple as shooting in an exterior location will evade Perry from time to time. There is a sequence where he places two actors against an obvious green screen backdrop of a riverside walkway, them has them inch forward while the background doesn’t move. It sucks the life right out of the scene, and reminds us we’re watching a supremely cheap-looking film.
The lone bright spot is the criminally underserved Taraji P. Henson, who has proved this year that she can keep any terrible movie watchable. She is absolutely magnetic on screen, pulling us into Melinda’s every twisted word. Even when Perry has her play up the emotionality of the scene to a ridiculous degree, Henson still sells it with her utter conviction. She shakes her voice in utter fury, spits out insults like they are the air she breathes and makes for a formidable menace in the scenes where she turns violent. She’s so good, in fact, that it makes it all the more apparent how lacking the other actors are. Watching her do scenes with these people feels like seeing a master yuck it up with students at an acting camp.
One of the tacky stylistic flourishes Perry uses is having words describing his leading lady pop up on the screen with synonyms that explain their meaning. It works when the word is as lofty as ‘acrimony,’ but falls hilariously flat when it comes to words like ‘vengeful.’ Well, if I may, let me give you the new synonyms Perry has given his new favorite word.
Boring, Trite, Ugly, Mean-Spirited, Stereotypical, Unwatchable.