Tyler Perry has made a small fortune and garnered quite a large and devoted following, initially with his stage plays and now with his films that tell stories of redemption and spirituality starring various flawed southern African-Americans. His latest film, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” returns to Perry’s favorite formula, but with mixed results.
Monty (Idris Elba) is a mechanic struggling to raise money to buy the garage that he works in with proprietor Willie (Oscar winner, Louis Gossett, Jr.). In addition to his job, his main passion is for his three daughters China, Lauryn and Sierra (real-life McClain sisters). Living with their grandmother, Monty is advised to take care of the girls “because she won’t be around much longer.”
Once she dies, custody of the children is awarded to the children’s trifling mother, Jennifer (Tasha Smith) who lives with the neighborhood drug kingpin, Joe (Gary Anthony Sturgis). In an effort to raise more money to fight a custody battle, Monty takes a job as a driver for corporate attorney Julia Rossmore (Gabrielle Union). After an initial period of trepidation, Julia and Monty begin to bond as she admires his dedication for his daughters.
Unfortunately for Monty, Julia’s two closest friends, Cynthia (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Brenda (Terri J. Vaughn), disapprove of her relationship with the mechanic. They see Monty as a poor reflection of Black manhood and not as a human being. Instead of standing up to her friends and telling them that this blue-collar man treats her with respect and love, she hides her feelings for him and keeps him at arm’s length. Ultimately, Monty is not just fighting a battle for his daughters but Julia’s heart as well.
As good as an actress as Union is, how many times can she play the icy, career-driven, white-collar woman who just can’t find a “good Black man” and happens to keep falling in love with blue-collar men? Much like her character in “Deliver Us From Eva,” Union’s Julia is a driven and determined workaholic who only becomes comfortable after several drinks.
Elba’s Monty is a cross between his cool, smooth demeanor in “The Wire” and his cold, calculating performance in “The Gospel.” Although Elba and Union look nice together, you get the feeling that they are never totally comfortable with one another on-screen like Union was with LL Cool J in “Eva.”
Much like Spike Lee used Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in some of his earlier films to give them additional “weight” and credibility, Perry has adopted the same practice with his films. In “Madea’s Family Reunion,” he cast Oscar-nominee Cicely Tyson; Gossett serves the same purpose in this film.
One of the things that Perry should be applauded for is once again documenting the love that Black men have for their children. Just as Will Smith fiercely guarded Jaden Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Monty is equally protective of his girls in this film. It has taken a long time and several generations for this cinematic stereotype to take hold, and bravo to the filmmakers who are attempting to reverse the trend of the absent, disinterested Black dad.
Still, between the depictions of the childrens’ mother, Jennifer, and the conversations between Julia’s girlfriends, it would seem that Perry has pigeon-holed most Black men as clueless, disrespectful and classless. I was amazed that Monty did not get high-blood pressure as a result of his experience catching hell from his high-strung, babies’ mamma and the relentless characterizations from Julia.
Perry’s screenplay opens the door for several subplots that either are never revisited or totally ignored, creating an effect that will leave viewers feeling like the story is incomplete. The story, and ultimately the film, has merit, but quite frankly you’ll feel as if you’ve seen it before – and you probably have.