If ever there were a movie that fully encapsulated the internal conflict audiences feel every time there’s a new Tyler Perry production, it’s Nobody’s Fool. Because on one hand, it’s reassuring to see a major studio release that’s such a staunch portrait of unapologetic Blackness (Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” serves as a major plot point). However, in doing so, Perry exploits a litany of antiquated views of both race and gender, presumably to cast a net of viewership beyond his core community. So for every earnest moment in Nobody’s Fool, there’s a sequence that validates undoubtedly foul ideology.
At the request of her mother (Whoopi Goldberg, reminding us in just a handful of scenes what an irreplaceable comic treasure she is), successful advertising rep Danica (Tika Sumpter) takes in her gruff, outlandish sister Tanya (Tiffany Haddish, who does not occupy nearly as much of the film’s runtime as its marketing campaign would have you believe) after she is released from a five-year stint in jail. After Tanya discovers that her sister’s online relationship is riddled with red flags, she decides to take matters into her own hands and expose the imposter’s true identity.
In true Tyler Perry fashion, Nobody’s Fool haphazardly attempts to juggle far too many balls at once, resulting in a jarring, uneven mishmash of tones. Part hard-R slapstick farce, part meet-cute romance, and part daytime soap opera, the film seems to be constantly redefining its goals as it progresses, and the pieces simply don’t ever find a way to fit together. Which truly is a shame, because there are moments of each pitch that adeptly make a strong case for specific insulated story beats. Unfortunately, the tonal extremes work to negate each other’s potency, as tender moments are undercut by juvenile humor and clever punchlines fall flat when followed by misplaced melodrama.
The chaotic mess of atmosphere culminates in a barrage of conflicting subplots that the movie routinely forgets about. Perhaps Tyler Perry shouldn’t have been the sole creative force behind the project. He would have greatly benefited from someone simply pushing back on his outpouring of ideas. The loose narrative direction would be far less grievous if Nobody’s Fool wasn’t trying so frantically to sell its hamfisted messages. Ostensibly, this is the tale of someone learning to find beauty and grace in life’s imperfections, but the filmmaker consistently gets too distracted by low-hanging jokes to deservedly convince us why that’s a commendable goal.
Many of us want to root for Tyler Perry. He’s a successful POC entertainer who has meticulously crafted his own brand, but in many ways, his films still feel like unpolished first efforts. What he lacks in firm narrative direction and cinematic flair, he often makes up for in sheer heart. And that’s partially the case with Nobody’s Fool. It’s difficult to dismiss the film outright, simply due to the infectious joy that tends to permeate amongst the cast. Unfortunately, that alone is not nearly enough to justify the price of admission. Nobody’s Fool has moments of intoxicating jubilance – and, believe it or not, even brief glimmers of emotional nuance – but they get lost in the hastily constructed disarray around them.