Daddy’s Little Girls (2007)

What Tyler Perry excels at is crafting blatant morality plays. Daddy’s Little Girls plays heavily into the melodramatic territory that he walks so often, but it actually works thanks to solid performances and a pretty decent storyline. Granted things are often stuffed with heavy-handed preaching and obvious character archetypes, but Perry works in some nice shifts from the norm and the film works because of its obvious heart and soul.

Nothing about Perry’s game is subtle, but that’s okay. He doesn’t master the movements of the craft and he’s not a particularly confident filmmaker, but he’s not the disaster that some critics dismiss him as and his pictures almost always draw big audiences. The sentimentality and schmaltz does have a market, especially when the majority of theatrical releases are shoddy retreads heavy on CGI and low on character.

Daddy’s Little Girls stars the remarkably talented Idris Elba as Monty James, a hard-working mechanic. He’s been dealt a rough hand in life and he has three daughters to show for it. Their mother (Tasha Smith) is housed up with a drug dealer (Gary Sturgis) and wants nothing to do with the kids unless taking them hurts their father. Their war has the girls sadly caught in the middle, but Monty’s doing the best he can.

When Monty takes on an extra job as a driver, he gets the lovely Julia (Gabrielle Union) as a client. She’s a lawyer. The two clash immediately, however, and a night where everything goes wrong eventually gets Monty fired. Somewhere in there Julia spots a soft side, though, and turns up to help Monty when things get tricky again. Julia has some of her misconceptions challenged in the meantime and Monty learns a valuable lesson about faith and perseverance.

The whole shebang is one of those soapy Lifetime sorts of things, but the cast and the generous script make it work. It helps that the characters are well-drawn. Julia, for instance, has reasons for her doubt of men and her aggressive nature. Union does a nice  job fleshing out the character and tucks in some sharp spots of humour, offering a depth that most melodramatic characters lack.

From what I can tell so far, the key problem with Perry’s flicks is a lack of discernment. He wants to do too much and Daddy’s Little Girls is no different. While Diary of a Mad Black Woman felt crowded due to the character of Madea, Daddy’s Little Girls is packed with a bunch of unnecessary elements as well. There’s the drug dealer situation in which Monty rises up as the hero of the neighbourhood, for instance. And the sub-plot involving Julia’s succession of blind dates is given far too much time, funny as Craig Robinson is.

There are obvious errors and lapses of judgment, as you might expect. The good vs. bad mythology certainly simplifies the reality of the streets and of Monty’s background to some extent, as every possible “bad” scenario he’s involved in has a “good” explanation, but Elba’s ability to bring texture to the role makes it easy to forget the bold lines. And Perry’s light directorial hand gives the performers room to breathe.

I usually recoil at the sight of these sorts of morality plays, but Perry’s brand has me lifting my hands to the heavens. I’m not quite sure why, but something about the way he pumps out the happy endings and the predictable plotlines satisfies. I can’t pretend that Daddy’s Little Girls is a particularly great picture, but it’s refreshingly well-acted, well-written, and well-done overall.

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