The female melodrama was one of the foremost genres of classical Hollywood filmmaking, reaching its heyday in the 1940s. These days, stories of complex women and their complicated private lives are unfortunately few and far between, though filmmaker Tyler Perry has never been afraid to plunge into this arena. Between installments of the comic “Madea” franchise, Perry regularly churns out female-driven films about love, marriage and infidelity.
The most entertaining of these films star the fiery Taraji P. Henson, who once again headlines in the woman-scorned picture “Tyler Perry’s Acrimony,” a melodrama with heavy-duty horror undertones. It’s Perry at his campiest, playing with soapy, over-the-top storytelling, and pointed, un-subtle dialogue that will make you want to utter an “ooh, girl,” in agreement, or offer up an emphatic snap.
With her captivating, wide-set eyes, Henson embodies a modern Bette Davis, playing women who are fierce, vulnerable, self-possessed but also fragile. In “Acrimony,” she stars as Melinda, a sweet, understanding woman with endless reserves of patience … until she gets mad. Her anger is her super power, giving her outlandish strength and skill. It takes a lot to unleash it, but when it gets going, you better get out of the way.
Melinda supports her good-for-nothing husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) for two decades as he works on his “rechargeable battery” invention that he envisions will save the environment and make him billions, promising her diamonds and yachts and penthouse apartments. He steadily drains the life insurance money she received after her mother’s death and convinces her to mortgage the house she inherited. She patiently endures all of this, even when their home is foreclosed upon.
But the one thing that sparks Melinda’s rage is the suggestion of infidelity. She has a history, including violently unleashing on Robert when she caught him steaming up his trailer home in college. When her overprotective sisters convince her to divorce the deadbeat, he takes up with his old flame, who reaps the rewards when his battery finally hits. This is what really pushes Melinda to the brink.
Stylistically, “Acrimony” has moments of genius — slow camera movements that push in on Melinda, emphasizing Henson’s performance and the building pressure — but it’s also hilariously cheesy, and slightly chintzy, which adds to its schmaltzy charm.
The last third of “Acrimony” reaches truly operatic heights of ridiculousness, but it’s a treat to see Taraji unchained, and Perry creates the appropriate space for this. This is the film that the boring and staid “Proud Mary” should have been, giving us the ferocious Taraji P. Henson performance we are owed.
‘Tyler Perry’s Acrimony’
Rating: R, for language, sexual content and some violence
Running time: 2 hours
Playing: In general release