Viewers who’ve come to regard Tyler Perry as a dependable source of manic melodrama and harebrained reactionary camp will be underwhelmed by The Single Moms Club. Slick by Perry standards—which means it feels like the work of a ’50s studio hack, rather than an ex-vaudevillian making his first awkward transition into talkies—and free of the tonal shifts which typically characterize his work, it’s the closest thing Perry has produced to a conventionally well-made film. Aside from a handful of bizarre aesthetic decisions (like the brightly-colored alphabet-block opening credits, which play out over two dimly lit dramatic scenes), the only thing that stylistically identifies it as a Perry production is the stiff, stagy pace of the dialogue. Every other line is followed by a pause for audience applause or laughter. In an empty theater, the effect is eerie.
The titular group consists of five women whose children attend the same suburban Atlanta private school: journalist May (Nia Long), literary agent Jan (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Waffle House waitress Lytia (Cocoa Brown), freshly divorced housewife Hillary (Amy Smart), and Esperanza (Zulay Henao), who apparently does nothing during the day. Every week, they meet to solve one another’s problems and repeatedly say “Single Moms Club,” as though it were some kind of clumsy empowerment mantra, while raising glasses of red wine. (Perry has already sold the TV-series rights.) The women’s problems include, but are not limited to: May’s son’s relationship with his absent father, who has a drug problem (the drug is never specified); Jan’s struggle to get a promotion; Lytia’s worries that her son will end up like his no-good brothers; Hillary’s divorce; and Esperanza’s controlling ex, Santos (Eddie Cibrian, wearing an Evil Spock beard which is intended to make him look Latino, but instead just makes him look like a sinister, mirror-universe Brian Williams).
Each woman is also assigned a suitor. These range in desirability from lighting designer T.K. (Perry, in a performance that’s uncharacteristically low-key and charismatic), who gently courts May, to buffoonish body builder Branson (Terry Crews, doing what Terry Crews does best), who periodically shows up at Lytia’s workplace with flowers. Hunky, rugged handymen is a common Perry trope, and Single Moms Club’s comes in the form of Peter (Ryan Eggold), Hillary’s next-door neighbor. Their double-entendre-heavy flirtation provides a welcome detour into burlesque humor, which has always been a natural fit for Perry’s directing style.
Perry’s films are often overlong, sloppy, and backward. They take place in a world where interracial relationships are unheard of, where homosexuality is a hush-hush topic, where “traditional family values” provide common sense answers, and where every independent woman is just itching to learn the error of her ways. Though The Single Moms Club is nominally a film about overcoming single motherhood through bonding, every one of the movie’s leads solves her problems by finally getting a man in her life. (At least in this one, nobody gets HIV as comeuppance.) However, Perry’s movies are rarely dull or repetitive. The Single Moms Club, meandering and schlock-free, is an exception in this regard. Partway through the film, a viewer may begin to yearn for Perry’s usual schizoid shtick, the cacophony of screeches and sobs.