Long-suffering wife Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) finally reaches her breaking point when her loafing husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) seems to have failed at his life’s work and also cheated on her for a second time.
Tyler Perry’s Acrimony is the first film by the prolific writer-director that I actually really wanted to see in theatres. To quote our fearless editor, Jonathon Wilson, “When I read Tyler Perry’s name klaxons start going off.” I tend to agree there, rolling my eyes whenever I see a new Madea trailer. But, this trailer was actually well-crafted and enticing. Taraji P. Henson is the star of a psychological revenge thriller? Yes, please. The shocking words, “I want to see that Tyler Perry film,” slipped out of my mouth. I was in. But I didn’t know what I was in for, exactly.
The most frustrating thing about Acrimony is that the more that I think about it, the more I actually appreciate what Perry is trying to do (I’ve bumped it up a star just planning this review; it was 1.5 going in–we’ll see if the final product is higher somehow). Paradoxically, however, there are some significant flaws in the execution and in the supporting cast’s acting that seriously detract from what could have been a great film.
Acrimony is structured into five distinct acts, each one headed by a vocabulary word and definition–while I recognize this is a bit trite, I’m also a literature teacher and a word nerd, so I enjoyed it. Acrimony, the longest segment, begins at the end, with Melinda in court receiving a restraining order (the parties are as yet unknown unless you’ve seen the trailer) and being ordered to attend counselling sessions. This frames the next three acts, which consist of Melinda narrating her past with her husband Robert: how they met and got married. Robert is a starving scientist, obsessed with constructing a self-charging battery that will allow him to provide an amazing life for her. Melinda’s sisters vocally oppose their relationship, exacerbated by the fact that she has caught him cheating on her. This led to Melinda going completely off her rocker and attempting to kill him, almost dying in the attempt. However, she takes him back and they get married, with her taking on multiple jobs to support his dream in the hopes that it will someday pay off.
Without spoiling the rest of the film, what follows is actually a well-crafted (though not always well-written) work of unreliable narration. We watch Melinda endure through four more vocabulary words: Sunder, Bewail, Deranged, and Inexorable. Perry’s trailer actually helped him to pull off a good bait-and-switch for the audience.
There’s actually a very good conversation to be had about Acrimony because it raises questions of healthy relationships and even mental health. Yet, while the writing often doesn’t give those issues their proper attention, it actually sort of works because of Melinda’s unreliability as a narrator. While Robert is admittedly a bit of a seeming failure for most of the film, working tirelessly on a money-sucking dream that seems as though it will never pay off, Melinda is actually absolutely insane. They apparently have never had an actual conversation about money or work or fidelity in their marriage, never discussing finances or how to make a budget. And Melinda works tirelessly for years, finally snapping in a big way.
The final three acts, as Melinda descends into madness, are frustrating. I appreciate Perry’s con, letting us think that Robert will be this lecherous loser and that Melinda will take some righteous revenge on his cheating ass. However, she instead descends into deep unlikeability, leaving a bad taste in our mouths.
Lyriq Bent’s Robert is a charismatic character, a faithful husband (contrary to the trailer), and stand-up guy, and for awhile Melinda’s lack of honesty (not that she’s lying, just that she’s crazy) really sets us up against him. I waited and waited for him to be a horrific husband, for it to be revealed that he’s got a second family somewhere, but that never came. Bent plays him earnestly as a sympathetic man with a dream that just may never be realized.
With Taraji P. Henson comes true acting prowess. She gives Melinda her all, playing both incredibly subtle and intensely over-the-top as needed, truly selling us on the deranged, scorned wife character. However, the uneven writing, some horrendous, unnecessarily green-screened scenes, and a lacking supporting cast really do her an injustice. The gulf between Henson’s abilities and everyone else’s (including Bent, who does an admirable job keeping up with her) is vast, making me wonder why she isn’t getting better roles, and making me sorry that they’re weighing her down here.
In the end, I applaud Tyler Perry for attempting to bring forth a well-constructed psychological thriller with a unique character and a strong female lead. However, the parts just cannot save the whole.