Editor's note: "The Single Moms Club" was not previewed for Pittsburgh critics.
It's understandable why director-writer-actor Tyler Perry has continually gone back to his female comedy persona of Madea. Put that loud and brash character in a film and it makes big money.
For "The Single Moms Club," Mr. Perry trades the over-the-top antics of Madea for a sometimes serious -- and often funny -- look at what it means to be a single mom as seen through the perspective of a variety of women. Although Mr. Perry does offer a couple of Madea moments through the character played by Cocoa Brown, the film generally is an interesting look at a group of MILKs (Moms I'd Like to Know).
Starring: Cocoa Brown, Wendi McLendo-Covey, Amy Smart, Zulay Henao, Nia Long.
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual material and thematic elements.
Five women, brought together by the antics of their preteen kids at private school, must set aside their differences to work on a school fundraiser as penitence for the crimes of their children. It starts out with a clash, like trying to mix oil, water, vinegar, cider and pure grain alcohol. Mr. Perry manages to find a way to blend these elements into one pleasing concoction.
Wendi McLendon-Covey, who normally plays bigger-than-life characters, turns in a controlled -- and still funny -- performance as Jan, a book editor whose determination to have it all meant losing a connection with her daughter.
Amy Smart's Hilary is trying to reconnect with her daughter while going through a messy divorce. And Ms. Brown's Lytia is dealing with the daily fear that her youngest son will be pulled into the criminal life that's already cost her two children.
Finally, there's Zulay Henao's Esperanza, a woman who continues to be dominated by her ex-husband, and Nia Long's May, who finds her son pulling away.
Despite the large cast, Mr. Perry manages to serve the individual stories while bringing the group together for the better moments in the film. Mr. Perry shows equal skill managing dramatic and silly scenes.
The movie works because it isn't an endless string of male bashing. These are women who are facing the challenges of not having a man in their lives, but they don't use that as a crutch. They are five strong women who, through the support of each other, find a way to deal with the financial, emotional, social and sexual hardships that come with being alone.
Mr. Perry tosses in comedic moments when the tension gets too intense, but he doesn't do it at the sake of any of the characters. This is a movie about five interesting and funny women dealing with real world problems.
Mr. Perry plans to take a break from movies, but when he returns he should consider making more like "The Single Moms Club."