It is not Tyler Perry's style to lull his audience with subtle storytelling. Nor is he known for stories sugarcoated with sentiment. But rather, Perry slaps you upside the head with confrontational characters and situations. His latest film, Daddy's Little Girls, is no exception.
Set in the trenches of an Atlanta ghetto, Daddy's Little Girls is the story of Monty (played by Idris Elba), an average guy, doing the best he can to make ends meet and support his three daughters on a lowly mechanic's salary. Both well-known and respected in his neighborhood, Monty hopes to one day buy the small car repair shop from Willie (played by Louis Gossette Jr.) and have a business of his own. We meet Monty just when his mother-in-law succumbs to cancer, meaning he must assume physical custody of his three daughters, China, Lauryn and Sierra (played by real life siblings the McClain sisters).
It's a task he happily undertakes, but a complicated one. Not only does he live in a one-bedroom apartment, but his estranged wife Jennifer (Tasha Smith) has decided to fight for custody. Desperate to keep his girls away from his cold, selfish ex-wife, who has shacked up of with Joe, the same Kingpin that terrorizes the neighborhood through extortion and drug dealing, Monty picks up a chauffeuring gig for the extra cash. That is how the hood-dweller Monty meets snotty uptown girl Julia, played by Gabrielle Union.
Julia is a high-powered attorney who has never lost a case. She is impatient and defensive, yet shrinks under her friends' nagging that she needs to find a man and get laid. 'If only her standards weren't so high.' Monty's first day on the job finds him driving Julia home after an extremely bad date, but having to detour to the hospital because something happened while the girls were unattended. The incident lands the children right in the hands of their mother. Monty is left to find a way to get them back.
Julia becomes Monty's reluctant champion when she sees him floundering before the judge in court, and suddenly they are on a quest together to get the daughters back. Late nights working on their righteous endeavor clear the way for these two opposites to attract.
I enjoyed this film for several reasons. Union plays a character that just can't win in the eyes of her girlfriends. They make judgments on her when she doesn't date; then they make judgments on the man she actually finds a connection with because of where he lives, how much he earns and how many children he has. It is an important lesson in character, in having the strength to stand up for what you want and not allow others to impose their ideas of your identity on you. It is a serious obstacle for successful, single women like Union's character, and not one easily overcome.
The Tyler Perry trademark I enjoyed the most was the epiphany moment. The moment when our hero is at his lowest, with no where to turn. However, it is in his spirituality that he finds hope. It is beautifully played by Elba. Watch for it, it will give you goosebumps.
Idris Elba delivers a truly moving performance, conveying the claustrophobic torment of a man with the odds stack against him. Then just as easily as he slides into the role of "playa". Gabrielle Union, somewhat known for playing hard-nosed women, provides some of the film's brightest comic moments. It is refreshing to see this side of her acting talents. The film contains a series of stock characters and does fall prey to cliche at times, but a solid cast supports the script's shortcoming.
What I liked best about this film is that I have never seen this story before. The best example if a counterpart would perhaps be Kramer vs. Kramer, but that still is not a fair comparison since we literally live in a different world than when Dustin Hoffman fought Meryl Streep in family court. Perry gives the audience a front row seat to how the court system can arbitrarily decide that a child is better off without the father. We see how a child's 'best interest' is not as simple as dollars and cents. We see a single dad actually trying to fulfill his obligation to the children he brought into this world. Moreover, Perry gives us the rare depiction of an African American man who loves being a father as much as he loves his kids.
This film is a long-overdue Valentine to every single Father that is a present, loving parent in their child's life. At times, the film's message is strong medicine. But for the reminder that there are guys like Monty still out there, it is well worth the price of admission.
Daddy's Little Girls is in theatres now.
Genres: Comedy and Romance
Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, drug and sexual content, some violence and language
Photos Courtesy of Lionsgate Films