Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate Films)
Tyler Perry is a brilliant writer, producer, and director of numerous plays and films. In his latest movie, he reprises his role as Mabel Madea Simmons, cross-dressing to play a formidable, wise-cracking African-American matron in her 60s whose couch is covered in plastic.
Perry sometimes devices plots that seem to have leaped from his own tumultuous life. He unflinchingly introduces characters who have been sexually abused as children and portrays married couples as if they’re teetering on the brink of disaster. Perry, sexually abused by both sexes when he was a child, found refuge and inspiration in the Christian church that he and his mother attended. Then he’d return home to daily beatings and verbal abuse from his father.
There’s no doubt that Perry has moved far beyond the degradation of his childhood; in fact, he’s shared that he confronted one of his abusers and forgave him. This may be a marvel and even a mystery to some but understood by those who share Perry’s spiritual beliefs.
How many times will Perry return to this theme in his work…and will audiences grow tired of it?
In Madea’s Big Happy Family, the no-nonsense matriarch has a niece named Shirley (Loretta Devine). She’s a soft-spoken Christian woman (some say based on Perry’s real-life mother) who “works like a horse and treats people nice” but has had a reoccurrence of cancer.
Motor-mouth Aunt Bam (Cassie Davis) accompanies Shirley to the hospital. The attractive and attentive doctor, who informs Shirley she needs to start chemotherapy, displays remarkable patience when Aunt Bam hogs the appointment by making crass overtures and gestures. Basically, the doctor’s role is to play a straight man to a pot-smoking, lecherous old lady.
Shirley plans a dinner that night for her family so she can break the bad news about her illness. (Meanwhile, Madea has become frustrated by a rude employee at a fast food restaurant and purposefully drives her vintage Cadillac through their large picture window.)
Shirley’s daughters, Kimberly and Tammy (Shannon Kane and Natalie Desselle Reid), who are at odds with each other, show up at their mother’s house along with their long-suffering husbands (Isaiah Mustafa and Rodney Perry), and smart-mouthed grandchildren. Shirley’s young son, Byron (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss) also appears with his current girlfriend, Rene (Lauren London). She’s a beautiful female of questionable character who needles Byron, who’s been in jail for selling drugs, to pull one more “drop” so he can buy her gifts. Byron has been working steadily at a warehouse and gives what spare money he has to the mother of his baby.
There are some obnoxious characters in this film and Byron’s ex, Sabrina, may be the worst. Played by real-life singer Teyana Taylor, Sabrina has a voice like a “siren” and irritatingly intones “Byrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroooonnnn”…”Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroooonnnn” over and over again to remind him he’s behind on his child support payments.
The dinner is a disaster. Ill tempers flare and people leave even before they sample the bountiful food or listen to Shirley’s heartbreaking news. Aunt Bam goes to Madea and asks for help.
Madea’s responds in part by threatening Shirley’s spoiled grandchildren with violence if they don’t respect their elders and even slaps a 10-year-old boy repeatedly in the face, snarling, “I have silver hair but I also got silver bullets, do you understand?” She also informs Shirley’s son, Byron, that his “sperm are gonna do a backstroke” if he doesn’t treat his mother right.
The plot takes a dramatic turn when Byron is told unsettling information about his birth.
There are some fine actors in this film. However, there are numerous characters who are nothing more than tiresome caricatures, people who hardly draw a breath and laugh repeatedly at their own coarse jokes, and head-swiveling subplots. The film’s heartbeat is only heard toward the end when a shameful act is disclosed and people are allowed to display the true depth of their feelings.
Of special interest may be Shad “Bow Wow” Moss who plays Shirley’s son, Byron. He’s a singer-rapper in real life with great screen presence. Also, Isaiah Mustafa, who plays Shirley’s son-in-law, Calvin, is well-known as the fetching man with the dry sense of humor in the hilarious Old Spice commercials. Kelly Price’s memorable song, “Tired,” is played, and soul-stirring music is sung by a church choir.
This is the third Madea film (there have been four plays) and the main character innocently butchers Bible verses again. It may have been somewhat endearing before, but this time Madea informs people that the “redeemed of the Lord can beat the sh*t out of people.” Also, the manly matron in the nondescript house dress shares, “You know God don’t like me, all the sh*t I’ve done in my life.”
Why does Madea tell her family members to “get right with Jesus” if she doesn’t really believe she’s been forgiven?
(Rated PG-13: a few minor swear words; drug talk and usage; suggestive remarks and other mature themes. )
(Written and published by C.E. Chambers May 2011.)