By Chris Nashawaty
Updated March 28, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Tyler Perry?s latest hit-and-miss melodrama goes out to all the ladies in the house. Namely, all of the frazzled, stretched-thin, underappreciated solo mothers juggling work, kids, and no-good exes. The film revolves around five such women from different racial and economic backgrounds, unspools their stories of struggle, and unites them for afternoons of sisterly commiseration over goblets of Chardonnay and straight talk about how to get their grooves back.

The single moms in question are: Nia Long as an aspiring writer whose ex became a drug addict; Amy Smart as a mother of three who?s delegated the parenting to her housekeeper until her alimony is cut off; Cocoa Brown as a sassy hash-slinging waitress scratching to make ends meet; Wendi McClendon-Covey as an icy career woman who ignores her daughter (and has a monopoly on the film?s best punchlines); and Zulay Hanao, a Latina spitfire hiding her hunky boyfriend from her domineering ex (Eddie Cibrian) who pays the bills. If these sound like clichés cribbed from a booklet of screenwriting Mad Libs, you?re not far off.

With all of his broad demographic boxes ticked, Perry finds a convenient excuse to bring the women together by having their kids attend the same fancy prep school. The women clash at first, but in short order find themselves bonding over their similar battles to do it all, all by themselves. Figuring that it takes a village, they form one of their own: the Single Moms? Club.

As with most of his films (Madea-centric and otherwise), subtlety isn?t Perry?s strongest suit. He tends to hammer his audience over the head with canned sentimentality, lazy stereotypes, and easy uplift. Actually, he?s a far better actor (he plays Long?s too-good-to-be-true suitor) than he is a director. Still, the film?s message of lean-on-me sisterhood is hard to argue with, even if Perry undermines his own good intentions by insisting that — SPOILER ALERT! — all of his heroines couple off with men before the end credits. Just wondering, but if these sisters are indeed capable of doing it for themselves as the film insists, why can?t at least one of them do it without a man? Sounds like a problem Madea might be able to solve. C+