Watching a Tyler Perry movie is like being trapped on an airplane next to a passenger with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. You’re in close quarters with someone who is on a roller coaster of emotions, swinging wildly between laughter, tears, anger, and depression. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club is no exception.
With a premise that grafts The Breakfast Club onto the traditional “women’s picture,” the movie follows five single mothers from different walks of life who come together when their teen kids, who all attend the same exclusive school, get in trouble for smoking and vandalism. It turns out that the school makes parents get involved when their children act out, so the five women are tasked with organizing a fundraiser dance.
The group consists of Jan (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a type-A nightmare who is struggling to hold on to her stressful career in publishing; Hillary (Amy Smart), a mother of three still reeling from her recent divorce, and who has the hots for her new neighbor; Esperanza (Zulay Henao), who is hiding her new boyfriend from her ex-husband because she fears he might take away his financial support; May (Nia Long), an aspiring writer with a drug-addict ex-husband and a teenage son who wants to know more about his dad; and Lytia (Cocoa Brown), a sassy waitress trying to keep her youngest son from falling into a life of crime. The outspoken Jan and the equally unfiltered Lytia quickly butt heads, but as the five start to open up about their parenting and dating struggles, they find they can lean on each other for support.
Like Mark Twain wrote about the weather in New England, if you don’t like the emotions in a scene in a Tyler Perry movie, just wait five minutes. As in his previous work, the screenplay here is constructed not to tell a story, but to wring some emotional response out of the viewer every couple of minutes without regard to basic storytelling principles, realistic human behavior, or logic in general. The clearest example of this comes in a sequence in which a fearful and frustrated May screams at all of her friends because Hillary lost her son while babysitting and they still haven’t located him. Directly after that is a scene in which Lytia has a humorous make-out session with Branson (Terry Crews, providing some much needed comic relief), a personal trainer whose advances she’s spent the entire movie refusing. This kind of emotional whiplash typifies everything wrong with Perry’s approach, because it doesn’t allow viewers to take the characters, or the fact that there’s a child missing, seriously. In his incessant attempts to provoke a response from the audience, Perry makes it impossible for us to feel anything at all.
Melodrama works because it builds to a catharsis, a release of emotions that have been steadily mounting over the course of the story. Perry is a hack who rarely shapes a scene, let alone a whole story, to a satisfying payoff. The Single Moms Club proves this point over and over again.