“Hell hath no fury,” reads a tagline on a poster for “Acrimony,” and at first glance, the latest sermonizing melodrama from Tyler Perry appears to be the story of how a scorned woman worked up the courage to leave her exploitative, untrustworthy husband.
The upshot is a good deal plottier, though, and the message less universal. The moral of “Acrimony” seems to be: Leave a bad man, especially one who cheated on you before marriage and leeches off your financial resources — unless he has poured his life into the dream of inventing a self-recharging battery, in which case the bonds of matrimony are sacrosanct and no sacrifice is too great.
In those circumstances, who could disagree? The movie opens with a judge ordering Melinda (Taraji P. Henson), who has skirted a restraining order, to undergo counseling. As the camera slowly moves in on Henson on the couch, Melinda tells us about the man who ruined her life.
We learn how in college (when she’s played by Ajiona Alexus), Melinda met Robert (Antonio Madison, and later Lyriq Bent), a handsome chemical-engineering student who seduced her to the strains of Nina Simone. But Robert is no Prince Charming. After catching him with another woman, Melinda rams her car into his mobile home, knocking it over — an accident that also injures her and results in a hysterectomy.
The film is just getting started. Melinda marries Robert anyway, and he continues to drain the money she inherited from her mother. Perry tracks the major expenses in onscreen text, and puts synonyms for the movie’s principal themes (“acrimony,” of course, as well as “deranged” and “inexorable”) in title cards.
A partisan narrator but probably not an unreliable one, Melinda is somehow able to present flashbacks to moments that she didn’t see. That’s just one of several ways in which Perry’s screenplay feels structurally shaky. Already ungainly in its mix of social realism and parable — Melinda undergoes a series of overwrought, essentially biblical trials in a city vaguely identified as present-day Pittsburgh — “Acrimony” truly gets muddled once it starts making excuses for its excuse-making antagonist.
After all, what if Robert really means well? What if this time will be different? In addition to endorsing the logic that keeps spouses Stockholm syndrome’d in bad marriages, “Acrimony” also offers poor economic advice (Melinda’s enduring devotion to Robert is an illustration of the sunk-cost fallacy — except the movie suggests she hasn’t sunk enough). And the less said about the yacht-based climax, featuring some of the least convincing ship-jumping ever filmed, the better.
Henson does what she can with a role that keeps her anger at a low simmer until requiring her to go full banshee within basically one scene. You can’t accuse her or “Acrimony” of being boring, but the film falls short of a design for living.