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Sunday, November 04, 2018

Nobody's Fool

Just last month, I saw Night School, a movie that wasted the improvisational talents of its star, Tiffany Haddish.  Now we have Nobody's Fool, a movie that gives Haddish too much of an excuse to improvise.  Her role in this movie is to basically walk into a scene, and start commenting on everything and everyone around her, while making numerous obscene jokes about dirty sex and drugs as much as possible.  This is what happens when you take a talented comic actress, and don't give her any restraints.  She clearly was allowed to throw away the script and just do whatever she wanted, and her performance (and the movie in general) suffers.

Haddish does not even play the main character in the film, but she steamrolls her way through every scene, so that we can't focus on anything else but her.  I don't really blame her, as I think she was just doing what the director, Tyler Perry (yes, the man behind the Madea movies), wanted.  Perry has never been known for being a director with restraint, or much common sense.  His films are frequently sloppily edited, and go in too many directions, as is the case here.  Here, he is trying to leave his comfort zone, and give his fans a different kind of film than he usually makes.  He's trying to make a racy, raunchy hard-R romantic comedy that goes for broke.  Here, he goes for broke, and gets there.  He is trying too hard to shock his audience with a lot of overly frank talk about sexual acts.  But he never gets any real laughs.  He thinks having his characters talking about dirty sex alone is funny.  A better comedy would think of funny things to say about dirty sex, instead of just referencing it constantly.  And rather than going for a real joke or punchline, he simply unleashes Haddish in a fury of frenzied improvisation. 

The plot follows Danica (Tika Sumpter), a buttoned-down woman who is living the good life with a beautiful big city apartment, and a huge promotion on the way at her job at a marketing company.  For the past year, Danica has been dating a guy named Charlie (Mehcad Brooks) on line.  She has never met him in person or seen his face, as he claims that he works on an oil rig, and that he has terrible wi-fi.  They audio chat often, and he has a smooth, sexy voice, but he just doesn't have the video connection.  Regardless, Danica is madly in love, and hopes to build a life with him.  Then her life goes out of balance when her sister Tanya (Haddish) is released from prison after five years, and needs a place to crash and find a job, since their pot-smoking mother (Whoopi Goldberg) doesn't trust Tanya.  Naturally, the two sisters are as different as can be.  Danica is quiet, calm and focused on success, while Tanya is compulsive, obsessed with sex, and outspoken.  Unfortunately, thanks to Perry's undercooked screenplay, we never really get a real relationship or bond between the two sisters, or to their mother, as Goldberg (who can be amusing in her few scenes) is underused.

Here, the plot starts to spin off in multiple directions, never really picking a tone or style.  In one plot, Tanya is suspicious of this Charlie that her sister is dating, so she hires the MTV show Catfish to investigate him.  At this point, the movie kind of turns into a bizarre extended episode of the television show, with the actual hosts teaming up with Tanya to track Charlie down.  This seems odd at first, but then you realize that MTV is owned by Viacom, who also owns Paramount Studios, who released this movie.  Another plot is centered on Frank (Omari Hardwick), the guy who runs the local coffee shop, and obviously is attracted to Danica.  He's kind, supportive, and has the kind of body usually reserved for male models in magazines.  Danica likes him too, but she wants to stay loyal to Charlie.  Also, she finds out that Frank has a criminal past, and so she shuns him, because she wants a "decent guy" that she can trust.

The whole stuff with Danica and Frank being attracted to each other, but Danica being unsure if she can trust him, is played up for drama, but it's the kind of cartoonish and simplistic drama that Perry specializes in.  Rather than genuine character development, we get Danica acting like an indecisive idiot, who is constantly hurting Frank or being cruel to him, yet somehow the dope stays with her.  And we're supposed to be happy for them when they are together.  All I could think is that Danica comes across as a terrible person most of the time.  The movie also falls back on a lot of contrived situations.  There are so many scenes where Frank happens to overhear Danica saying something not that nice about him that it starts to almost become a running gag.  The thing is, both Sumpter and Hardwick are good together, and do create some romantic chemistry.  But the way the characters have been written by Perry is so simple-minded, we end up liking them only for the performances, and not for who they are.

Nobody's Fool also never quite figures out what it wants to be.  Is it a romantic soap opera, or an over the top raunchy comedy?  The movie wants it both ways, and never finds the right balance.  The first time we see Haddish's character, she's having rough, dirty sex with a crackhead in the backseat of a van in the prison parking lot.  It sets a coarse and racy tone, which the movie employs from time to time, but then it will switch gears and want to be a tender and sweet love story.  It gets to the point that the two sisters seem to be existing in their own individual movie, and neither one of them are worth watching.  Haddish just walks through the movie, making off-color jokes, and treats the whole thing like a stand up routine that's flown off the rails.  Sumpter, meanwhile, is doing what she can, but the script never gets a handle on her, and forces her to make a lot of bad decisions, making it hard to get behind the character. 

So, even though this movie serves as somewhat of a departure for writer-director Tyler Perry, he still seems attached to his usual bag of tricks of forced melodrama and confused tones.  Despite a somewhat dirtier mind than usual, this is just the same old routine from Perry.


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