Since the beginning of time, women have been dismissed as crazed or deranged, their emotions ridiculed and shoved aside as irrational or without merit. Though mental illness and unhealthy behaviors are certainly very real, women aren’t often allotted the space to tell their stories and to speak their truths without fear of backlash or being confined to some heinous outdated stereotype. In his new suspense thriller Acrimony, Tyler Perry sets the stage for one woman, Melinda Gayle (portrayed by Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson) to tell her story — a tale riddled with heartbreak and betrayal.
Beautifully shot in crisp, dark greys, the film opens in the aftermath of Melinda and her ex-husband Robert’s (portrayed by Lyriq Bent) marriage. It’s clear from her outbursts and enraged emotional state that Melinda is not dealing with the demise of her relationship well. Order by the courts to attend counseling sessions, a reluctant Melinda dials back time eighteen years and begins to piece together the romance between herself and Robert – which started in college and eventually led to the inside of a courtroom.
Henson, as usual, is intensely captivating as Melinda, her fury literally penetrates the screen as she relays the story of her relationship to her therapist and to the audience. Perry captures her various emotional states, slowly building to her current boiling point. Bent, who rose to prominence in the Saw franchise and who currently sizzles as Jamie Overstreet in Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is also fantastic. The chemistry between the actors is very much that of two people who have spent nearly two-decades of their lives with one another.
Instead of forcing Henson and Bent to play younger versions of themselves, relative newcomers Ajiona Alexus (who plays young Cookie on Empire), and Antonio Madison are wonderfully cast as young Melinda and young Robert respectively. Their stellar performances with all of the levity, earnestness, and hope of youth created a steady foundation. They were also able to connect their characters seamlessly with Bent and Henson’s older version.
Much of the criticism of Perry’s work has been that it is disjointed, stereotypical, and practicable. The first two acts of Acrimony—the Madea creator’s first R-rated work—prove that Perry is ready to step outside of his comfort zone. Acrimony was anything but predictable almost until the end, and though Melinda could have easily fallen into the realm of an angry Black woman, by presenting her entire relationship to the audience, Perry allows the viewer to decide who she is for ourselves.
Acrimony isn’t perfect. Though there were some plotholes – especially concerning Melinda’s inheritance, the fully fleshed-out relationship between Melinda and her sisters and the sometimes outrageous one-liners including one where Melinda refers to her husband as a “low-life maggot of a muthaf*cka” were endlessly entertaining. As a result, the first two parts of Acrimony work well. The film was not completely void of over-the-top moments, however, they were just enough to keep the audience invested in the film – but then came the third act.
As women, we are often taught that our feelings and outrage lack validity but in Melinda, an intensely relatable woman who albeit made many many mistakes felt very familiar. She was instantly recognizable as one of our sisters, friends, or even for some of us — ourselves. Bent’s Robert also wasn’t one-note. Selfish and prideful, he was also caring and earnest. Unfortunately, all of this steady ad important groundwork Perry put into Acrimony was shattered in the final act of the film.
Driving the film towards its climax, Perry veers the film off-course forcing his characters into the land of absurd, and thrusting Melinda headfirst into a psychotic stereotype (one that he had been so careful to avoid early on in the film). So puzzling were the final minutes of the film, it almost seemed like a dream sequence. The film’s mangled final act does not mean that Acrimony is without merit. The acting is fantastic, the idea is solid, and there are undoubtedly various themes surrounding relationships and mental health to be discussed and considered.
Unfortunately, Perry let his tendency to lean head first into all of the cringy aspects of soap operas snatch away what would have been a solid film. Still, if there is one lesson to be learned from Acrimony, it’s to never to let anyone, a man or otherwise run off with all of your stuff, your youth, or your emotional well-being.
Acrimony in now playing in theaters.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami