Nobody's Fool

(Tyler Perry, USA, 2018)


Being a citizen not of the USA, I find the films of Tyler Perry an extremely odd and rather exotic phenomenon. I stumbled upon his work at the belated point of his bloated melodrama Acrimony (2018) which, in its naïveté of narrative craft, ended up generating a maddening but fascinating sheen of surrealism. I was intrigued (perhaps masochistically) to check if that description fits his work in general.


It does.


Perry churned out Nobody’s Fool (not be confused with Evelyn Purcell's 1986 film of that title scripted by Beth Henley), perhaps to quickly recover his more usual comedic métier, in the same acrimonious year of 2018. Its nominal subject is the pop media craze of “catfishing” – even to the extent of working in small roles for Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, hosts of the TV series (itself the spin-off of a documentary movie) Catfish. Danica (Tika Sumpter) has fallen for a guy she has never seen in the flesh, only interacted with online. Charlie, it seems, ticks every box on her insanely romantic “wish list”.


Danica is triangulated between this mysterious dreamboat named Charlie, and hunky, honest Frank (Omari Hardwick) – who is, however, someone with a less than salubrious past, and thus not wish-list material. Danica’s best friend, Kalli (Amber Riley), and her agreeably stoned mother Lola (Whoopi Goldberg), buzz about for the sake of gossip, advice and banter.


Perry’s black characters live in a world of affluence (marketing firms, coffee shops, the legal profession, corporate consulting) – that is, unless they are just sprung from prison, or living in a caravan on medical benefits. Into this latter, ex-criminal category falls Danica’s sister, Tanya (Tiffany Haddish). The film is, essentially, built as a vehicle for Haddish’s talents as a performer: she’s screwball, foul-mouthed, sex-starved, horny at all the most inappropriate moments and in the most embarrassing social situations.  Tanya is excessive in all ways and at all points of physical extremity (and, as such, Haddish is an enjoyable spectacle). The thing is: as she became a devoted Catfish fan in the pen, she just may be onto the truth about Charlie.


Perry’s films tend to be – and feel – very long for the stories they tell and the formats they fill. This romantic comedy is a mere 110 minutes, but it takes forever to get to its good old “turning points”. (I won’t spoil for you where the catfishing intrigue terminates.) And when Perry goes for the stark dramatic downturns and reversals (such as Frank’s rejection of the deluded Danica), do they ever drag out in their consequences. In the meantime, the narrative machinery is not quite as creaky and distended as in Acrimony – but Perry does love, for example, the odd spot of clunky coincidence, such as when Frank’s coffee shop happens to be (at night) also a location for soulful Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and hence the opportunity for Danica to surreptitiously overhear his backstory!


What remains are the jokes. The surreal tone of the piece is compounded right at the outset, when Tanya, hardly two minutes out of jail, is getting humped by some stranger in the back of a van – and the positions of their copulating bodies (as Tanya engages in some shouted conversation with Danica and Kalli) deliberately defy all anatomical logic. Weirdly though, for all her dirty talk, Tanya remains perfectly chaste for the rest of the plot. There are places, it seems, where even Tyler Perry won’t go.

© Adrian Martin 23 March 2019

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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