The mainstream success of Tyler Perry is arguably the antithesis of the usual Hollywood success story. Launching his career in the theater, Perry staged various gospel-backed productions that rapidly grew in cult appeal. He then went on to further grow his grassroots fanbase by starring in a series of low-budget film comedies, beginning with "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and then "Madea's Family Reunion' (which marked his own film directing debut). Yet despite the homegrown charm and growing popularity of his creations, their schlocky construction and reliance on base humor (fart jokes, etc.) have all but turned Perry into a critical whipping post.
Now we have 'Daddy's Little Girls,' which sees Perry drop his Madea latex suit to step completely behind the camera, telling a sentimental tale far more ambitious than his previous works. It would also appear (however obliquely) to be an attempt to expand his range and, perhaps, finally receive a warmer embrace from critics. Unfortunately, 'Daddy's Little Girls' didn't really succeed on any level upon its theatrical release --critics still pounced, and, even worse, audiences stayed away in droves. Not only are we not likely to see a 'Daddy's Little Girls 2' anytime soon, but one wonders if Perry may now retreat completely back to the safety of Madea and his old vulgar comedic ways.
As written and directed by Perry, 'Daddy's Little Girls' is pure melodrama, with a streak of preachiness thrown in for good measure. Monty (Idris Elba) is a mechanic struggling to make ends meet while raising his three young daughters (played by newcomers the McClain sisters -- Sierra, China and Lauryn). When the court awards custody of his daughters to his ex-wife, Monty desperately tries to win them back with the help of Julia (Gabrielle Union), a beautiful, Ivy League-educated attorney. Of course, in classic romantic comedy fashion, Monty and Julia couldn't be less alike, but still a flame is ignited -- touching off a firestorm of love and unforeseen complications.
Oddly, despite what the film's marketing would suggest, Perry does not focus on what would surely be the most rewarding storyline in the film -- the growing love story between Monty and Julia and the situational family comedy that would naturally follow. Instead, he veers off into two subplots laced with unnecessary pathos -- one involving the custody battle over the children (which plays like 'Kramer vs. Kramer'-lite), and the other involving a group of neighborhood drug dealers.
Considering Perry's success with the broad comedy of 'Madea,' it's really surprising tht none of the early comedic byplay between Monty and Julia is particularly witty -- or even typically ribald. Instead, Perry seems more interested in crafting long speeches for his characters that generally come off as awfully didactic and heavy-handed. Only Gabrielle Union is able to elevate her character's lengthy diatribes on modern dating and misogyny -- she brings a real fire and indignation to Julia, and proves to be the film's only antidote against all of Perry's sermonizing.
Perry has also not developed much as a visual stylist. 'Daddy's Little Girls' feels at times almost like a full-length student film, present with little flourish, choppy scene transitions and performances that seem to succeed despite Perry, rather than because of him.
Still, despite all these faults, there's still something strangely charming to me about 'Daddy's Little Girls.' Today's Hollywood sees so many produced-by-committee cynical comedies, that it's hard not to champion movies even as weak as 'Daddy's Little Girls.' While I hope Perry's films get better, I also hope he continues to make movies no matter what critics like me say about them.
Lionsgate presents 'Daddy's Little Girls' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, and while the results are very nice-looking, don't expect any fireworks.
The source is in excellent shape, as befits a new release. The print both smooth and clean, and is free of any blemishes. Contrast runs a little hot, which is common on most newer transfers these days, giving the image plenty of pop, but also a hint of artificiality. Blacks are solid and colors are pretty vibrant, though hues are never incredibly intense -- especially primaries, which seem slightly desaturated. Fleshtones hold up fairly well, although again the high contrast can make the actors look a bit waxy. Overall detail is about average for a new release, with the transfer exhibiting fine textures, although the sense of three-dimensionality is never breathtaking. All in all, a solid four-star presentation.
Now here's a surprise -- who would have thought a straightforward romantic comedy like 'Daddy's Little Girls' would get a full-blown, top-level uncompressed PCM 7.1 surround track (48kHz/16-bit/9.6mbps)? In all honesty, the film's laid-back sound design and lack of action really doesn't require a soundtrack with such an expansive rear presence, but I certainly won't fault Lionsgate for going all-out on this one.
Largely dialogue-driven, there aren't that many discrete effects going on at any one time to take full advantage of the two extra surround channels. Having said that, the film does have its moments of sonic uniqueness. At one point, Perry uses Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" as the underscore for a slow-building sequence that goes from car crash to fist fight to full-on riot. This sequence in particular proves that, when all elements of a score come together -- music, aggressive sound design and rhythmic pacing -- the multi-channel effect can be incredibly effective.
Otherwise, dynamics do not offer anything beyond the standard for a maudlin dramedy -- low bass is certainly slick and tight, dialogue is nicely reproduced, and balance matching is not an issue. Considering the limitations of the source material, this presentation is certinly the best 'Daddy's Little Girls' could ever hope to receive.
Not unlike their generous approach to the audio, Lionsgate has similarly overstuffed the supplements package for 'Daddy's Little Girls.' Not only does this disc include all of the extras from the standard-def release, but it also adds on several Blu-ray exclusives (see the "high-def exclusives" below).
The standard supplements kick off with an audio commentary by Tyler Perry. While some may expect him to be wild and zany, Perry takes this opportunity to seriously discuss a film that, regardless of box office and critical reaction, was certainly made with sincerity. As a result, some may find this track is a bit dry. Largely technical, some key story points are discussed, and Perry predictbly heaps the praise on his actors. Given the flat pace only diehard fans of the director will probably want to check this one out, but it certainly proves he's a filmmaker with more than just fart jokes on his mind.
Next are a suite of three featurettes, which (like all of the video supplements listed below) appear to be 480p/MPEG-2 upconverts. "Tyler's team: Cast and Characters" is a straightforward making-of, offering the usual behind-the-scenes footage and on-set cast and crew interviews. The conception and production of the film is chronicled, though it's clear this one was produced well before the film was even finished, let alone hit theaters.
"Introducing the McClain Sisters," meanwhile, offers about six minutes on the three real-life little tykes (China, Lauren and Sierra) that star as Monty's daughters in the film. Slight, of course, but cute.
Finally, "Atlanta Aquarium: Working Underwater" is another five-minutes of on-set material that details how complex it was to shoot what would seem like a simple scene.
Rounding out the standard-def extras is a single Deleted Scene -- the "Extended Church Scene." It probably received such special placement on the standard-def set because it will appeal most directly to the core Perry fan-base that likes the more over-the-top, broad sense of comedy in his other pictures. But while this scene extension was the only deleted scene included on the DVD edition of 'Daddy's Little Girls,' there is a full suite of proper deleted scenes exclusive on the Blu-ray. Read on...
While Tyler Perry has built a cottage industry out being the guy who dresses up in latex fat suits and plays dirty old grandmothers, 'Daddy's Little Girls' would appear to be his bid to be taken a bit more seriously, both as a filmmaker and a storyteller. The results aren't particularly encouraging, but still 'Daddy's Little Girls' remains a well-meaning and occasionally perceptive comedy that's arguably at least a step in the right direction.
This Blu-ray release is a surprise. It boasts better video and audio than I expected -- particularly the inclusion of a rare 7.1 PCM track. There are also a host of bonus features exclusive to the next-gen release, making this Blu-ray edition of 'Daddy's Little Girls' rather notable for the value it offers for money. Alas, the film is probably not strong enough to warrant a purchase, but it's definitely worth a rent, if you're so inclined.