The better Tyler Perry films are ones that don't contain his character
of Madea. This film is one such. This film is particularly better
because it doesn't involve any crazy plot twists or anything of which
the writer-director has been guilty in the past, and that's really
over-the-top events or outright ridiculousness. The humor has also been
supremely turned down. It leans more on the side of drama. If anything,
most Perry fans might argue that this film is his most boring, but, for
me, it represents a level of restraint for the filmmaker that I
respected and found refreshing.
The premise is five women who are all single mothers with children attending a private school in Atlanta, meet with the school's principal and learn they have to prepare a charity fundraising because all of their children have misbehaved to the point they could be expelled. All five women come from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of their financial and even ethnic or racial differences are sources for tension, but not really. These women quickly become friends and help each other. The main sources of conflict are how each woman relates to her son or daughter in relation to how each deals with that child's father, their job or past mistakes.
Nia Long (The Best Man and Love Jones) stars as May, a newspaper writer and aspiring book author. She has a son named Rick who like all the children is prepubescent, probably between 9 and 12. She has to deal with the constant disappointments of Rick's absentee father and how it's constantly breaking Rick's heart.
Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs and Reno 911!) stars as Jan, a corporate executive at a book publishing company who has decided to forgo romance in order to focus on her career. She has a daughter named Katie who seems to be a bratty victim of Jan's focus on her career, but an argument is made that Jan being a mother is a hindrance to her becoming a partner at work. She's constantly butting heads with obvious misogynists. Perry underlines their misogyny too boldly, but the assumption is that it's done for some comedic effect.
Amy Smart (The Butterfly Effect and Crank) stars as Hillary, a housewife whose daughter is Jennifer. Despite having no outright profession, Hillary delegated pretty much all her parenting duties to her maid and later she wonders why she's missed a lot of her daughter's crucial and coming-of-age moments.
Zulay Henao (Fighting and Love Thy Neighbor) stars as Esperanza, another housewife whose daughter is Veronica. Veronica's bad attitude is akin to Jennifer's but comes from her father spoiling her rather than her mother's neglect. Esperanza is contradicted by Veronica's father and she doesn't stand up to him because she doesn't want him to yank his financial support.
Cocoa Brown (For Better or Worse) stars as Lytia, a waitress at a diner who has a son named Hakeem. She's secretly terrified that Hakeem will end up like his older brothers who are both in prison. His one lapse, which gets him in trouble, is enough to get Lytia to double down, but otherwise Hakeem is a perfect child. Her inability to see that is the core of her problem.
Along the way, each woman has flirtatious and out-and-out romances. With the exception of Cuban actor and model William Levy who plays Manny, the sexiest of all man candy here, and fellow Cuban-American Eddie Cibrian who plays Santos, the requisite bad guy, the rest of the male love interests are played for laughs. Terry Crews who plays Branson is like a reoccurring, singing telegram in a backwards baseball cap. Ryan Eggold who plays Peter is the hot handyman who exists to invoke a ton of sexual innuendo and double entendres. Tyler Perry himself plays TK, which is a lazy substitute for his own initials TP. TK's profession is not that far flung from TP's either.
There is a moment when one woman is assumed to be a lesbian and I wish she had turned out to be an actual lesbian because I think it would have added a more interesting element. It instead feels as though every woman needed to have some male prospect, so it throws the supposed lesbian a guy named Tony, played by Sean Carrigan (The Young and the Restless) who is essentially playing a throwaway role.
All the child actors are fine. They're mostly cute. A moment of heavy drama where a child has to break down and cry doesn't feel authentic or genuine. It hurts that the children are barely in the narrative. The children are barely seen in school or interacting with each other. Perry perhaps spends more time on the man candy than delving into the more important relationships, the ones between mother and child.
The film did remind me of other films about single mothers. One that's more recent is actually a documentary told more from the point-of-view of the child called 12 O'Clock Boys. The other that was decades ago is a film by Martin Scorsese told more from the point-of-view of the mother called Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974).
The movie approaches important issues about single mothers, issues that aren't often explored. Yet, it's all a bit too glossy and works under rom-com conventions more than as a parental drama, which it more should be. All the women are beautiful and likeable and brighten the screen with their presence. It's broad but it's sweet, and I was taken by it.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 51 mins.