If you've been a regular reader of mine for any time at all, then you already know of my long existing affection for Tyler Perry.
I am not Black. I don't believe it is necessary to be Black to appreciate Perry's formulaic yet family friendly films that proudly wear a lived in friendliness and faith that you sometimes forget the struggles that Perry has unquestionably experienced after his own decision to come out as gay (Duh! Really?). It is a shame, really, that Perry's films don't typically attract a greater cultural diversity, because his themes are universal and there's a pretty good chance that if you've enjoyed films like The Blind Side
or standard Disney/Touchstone live-action fare that you'll find yourself at least modestly entertained by most of Perry's films.
Madea's Big Happy Family
is no exception. While no one is likely to mistake Perry for a brilliant filmmaker nor any of his films for potential Oscar winners, Perry knows to bring his stage productions to life and he knows what his audiences want and, almost more consistently than any other director, he gives it to them.
In fairness and complete transparency, I should acknowledge that while I am not Black. I was raised in a Black neighborhood, attended a Black college or my undergraduate program and currently still live in a Black neighborhood. I am comfortable in and have long been accepted by the Black community. So, while I am not Black I do "get" Perry's films and I do prefer seeing them with a Black audience.
Unlike any version of Martin Lawrence in drag, Tyler Perry as Madea may be a gimmick but it's a gimmick that actually works. How? I have no idea, but it does work. The problem with Madea's Big Happy Family
is exactly what makes it work on the theatrical stage - it's larger than life in virtually every way with broad and dramatic storylines, characters and dialogue that will exhaust and bore you if you can't connect to it.
Perry is an authentic writer/director who is seldom prone to writing characters who are either all bad or all good, instead finding that gray area where genuine human beings exist and where flawed people find ways to reconcile and heal. This film centers around Shirley (Loretta Devine), who discovers her cancer has returned and instructs her escort to the clinic, Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), to tell all her children. The drug-hazed Aunt Bam doesn't quite understand the directions and, well, you simply need to see it to see how it all unfolds.
Shirley's children are a self-absorbed lot that includes Byron (Bow Wow), a reformed drug dealer with a hostile ex-girlfriend and baby mama (Teyana Taylor) along with his current girlfriend (Lauren London), who's not much better; Kimberly (Shannon Kane), a high-powered real estate agent and insensitive spouse to her hubby (Isaiah Mustafa); and, Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid), who isn't quite high-powered but still treats her husband (Rodney Perry) like crap.
Madea's Big Happy Family
is a return to Perry's early cinematic stylings, a bit of a regression artistically yet a market friendly one given the surprising lack of success for Perry's last film, the serious drama For Colored Girls. Madea's Big Happy Family
isn't likely to win Perry any new fans, but neither will it lose him any fans as Madea herself remains the same delightfully over-the-top character and Perry includes the obligatory family reunification, a hilariously broad family secret revelation on, where else, "The Maury Povich Show" and a genuinely moving gospel scene that typifies the kind of spirituality that Perry espouses where families and faith and finding our way back to one another intertwine.
As a longtime Tyler Perry fan, I've long been frustrated by Lionsgate and Perry's refusal to do pre-release press screenings for his film, perhaps a recognition that Perry's audiences don't need them and won't be influenced by them...or, perhaps, it's how Perry keeps his consistently modest budgets at the point where virtually everything he touches turns a profit. Who knows?
All I can say is that Madea's Big Happy Family
is typical Perry and Perry knows how to keep his fans and audiences united as one big happy family. While the film itself may be formulaic and flawed, if you're a Perry fan you're not going to want to miss it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic