Friday, September 23, 2011

Madea's Big Happy Family

Directed by Tyler Perry.
2011. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Tyler Perry
Loretta Devine
Cassi Davis
Shannon Kane
David Mann
Tamela Mann
Bow Wow
Lauren London
Teyana Taylor
Rodney Perry

Director Tyler Perry’s most famous creation is back for another adventure. This time, the big family actually belongs to Shirley (Devine) and they are anything but happy. Shirley has come down with an almost immediately terminal form of cancer. Her doctor informs her she only has four to six weeks to live. She’s actually been battling this for seven years and was thought to be in remission. Her family knows none of this. She decides the only way to let them know what’s going on is to have them all over for a grand dinner and break the news after they’ve filled their bellies. However, as soon as her three adult children lay eyes on each other sparks fly, tempers flare and they all flee in different directions. This mix is made even more volatile by the fact that aside from their problems with their siblings they all bring and display their issues with their spouses and children, as well. The two daughters treat their husbands like dirt and the son has baby mama drama and a gold digging girlfriend. As a dear friend of Shirley’s, Madea is asked to help straighten up this dysfunctional bunch.

From the very beginning it is clear that this is classic Tyler Perry. Everything is over the top, both dramatically and comedically, problems mount at an alarming speed, and there’s plenty of sermonizing. This is the director’s tried and true formula. That formula is largely influenced by the movie Soul Food. Much of his work mimics that movie’s tone and style with Madea and/or others adding extra zaniness and homespun wisdom. Here, we practically get a remake. A television set full of money seems to be the only thing missing.

Even without understanding this, most of his core audience doesn’t even get to be surprised by all the plot developments because they’ve likely seen the play of the same name Perry created, toured around the country and sold on DVD the year before. They still flock to his movies, though. It’s become a genius marketing plan. He’s created an entire industry where duplication of product is not only expected but ravenously craved by its consumers.

From my viewpoint, Madea’s Big Happy Family is a colossal disappointment. Part of the problem is its exactly the same as every other movie with the name “Madea” attached to it, as well as a few others. What makes it feel worse than those is it comes on the hells of “For Colored Girls.” Whether you liked that movie or not, it showed Perry as an artist willing to take risks and leave his comfort zone. Even if he didn’t stray very far he still tried to stretch his wings some. Since he has the eyes and ears of so many trained on his every action. I hoped that FCG signaled the start of an artistic growth spurt. I hoped he had either found something more to say or was at least willing to try different ways of delivering his message. Lastly, I hoped he was becoming confident enough to let his audience question what they’ve seen which may in turn make them question themselves and stimulate their own growth. Instead, we get a regression to the norm. It’s a highly profitable norm, but it’s a spiritually unfulfilling one. This is particularly troublesome given the Christian slant to his work. It reaffirms what his core fans already believ in but doesn’t encourage them to do anything more than nod in agreement, laugh and wait impatiently for the next installment in the Tyler Perry canon.

For those that are fans, this is right up your alley. Madea is as outrageous as ever. Mr. Brown (David Mann), Cora (Tamela Mann) and Joe (the director in a dual role) are back for good measure. The movie moves swiftly and maintains a southern gospel tint. Every second of it is precisely who we know Tyler Perry to be. It never once threatens to be anything more. The question is does this float your boat, or not?

MY SCORE: 4/10

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