Madea's Big Happy Family Directed by: Tyler Perry Cast: Tyler Perry, Loretta Divine, Shad "Bow Wow" Moss, Natalie Desselle, Shannon Kane, Teyana Taylor, Isaiah Mustafa Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: April 22, 2011
PLOT: After she finds out that she is dying of cancer, a woman (Devine) enlists the rowdy Madea (Perry) to roundup the members of her family to get them together for a special dinner.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Tyler Perry know what they're getting themselves into. More directly, those who like Madea will be pleased to see her on-screen more than usual in this film, something that could even bring in and possibly satisfy newcomers.
And then Tyler Perry, dressed in old women’s clothing, said unto them, “Hallelujer!”
Though she doesn’t know how to follow the standard rules, Madea thinks she has all of the answers. It’s only fitting then that Tyler Perry himself, the man-in-drag that brings Madea into freakish real life, believes the exact same thing about himself.
Since it’s Madea at the center of the moral righteousness expressed in Madea’s Big Happy Family, the movie works less from the word of God (or the “Lort” as Madea incorrectly calls him) so much as it speaks from the words of Tyler Perry. Here, Perry takes his preaching potential to a level that doesn’t encourage faith, but instead speaks directly to his audience, or more specifically, his top demographic of African-American women. For the most part, his story focuses around the women, whose lazy character construction ranges from a fluffy mother (Loretta Devine), two disgustingly bitter sisters/wives (Desselle, Kane) to a horrifically stereotypical depiction of a girl from the ghetto, as played with overly aggressive obnoxiousness by Teyana Taylor.
Contradictory to his allegiance to making stories most appreciated by women, Perry can’t write a female character of 100% true origin and action. Somewhere along the way when working with a character, he finds a way to scrape away a bit of their believability, so that they can fit in his higher priority to make drama and ultimately, teach lessons. Equally contradictory is the concept of a person like Madea teaching everyone else around her how to behave, though her free-spiritedness immediately turns this credibility to naught (as said in this movie and Madea Goes To Jail, she was a “ho,” etc.) In fact, Madea might even have the most problems out of everyone, and the most wrongdoings. If anything, Perry is trying to teach with Madea that if a person yells the loudest and slaps the hardest, they are in charge.
Madea is meant to be Perry’s invite to non-believers and believers alike to his filmography, and sometimes it’s been a con. Madea Goes To Jail lures in the curious with the premise of an older black woman being sent to jail. In both the original theatrical and feature version, the story included much more drama than that, with Madea mostly staying on the outside of the drama, providing comic relief. Think of her as a Woody Allen in Crimes and Misdemeanors to Martin Landau of the same film, except that the tragedies that occur to Landau’s film are actually believable to happen in real life.
This time, Madea’s on-screen presence is not held back. While it was feared that she’d only be in a few scenes in this one (as it felt to be the case with I Can Do Bad All By Myself) she’s in the story fairly often. After all, while her character’s existence might be extremely hypocritical to the message of a particular film, or her antics redundant (how many times is she going to get in trouble behind the wheel?) or her outbursts overdone, Madea is still the most entertaining aspect of Tyler Perry’s movies. In a much more simpler sense aligned with Eddie Murphy’s dedication to costuming and make-up, Tyler Perry is funny in a fat suit. But he’s still not a good writer.
It’s possible though, that Perry is trying to improve. Maybe someone sat down with him in-between the making of this and his previous film For Colored Girls, and said something along the lines of, “You need to learn how real drama works. Did you see how you ended Why Did I Get Married Too?? F**king ridiculous. Funny to laugh at, but ridiculous.”
Perry’s impulses for the overdramatic events have been calmed down with Madea’s Big Happy Family, and its been funneled into his dialogue. Count this as a small victory, but don’t bring out the streamers or praises just yet. The writer/director/producer of numerous plays, TV episodes, and plays still can’t gage when certain topics are discussed in real life. Instead, character realizations that are pivotal to the chaos of the story and the hurt of the characters in question are unleashed spontaneously on the audience like a slap in the face from Madea, with Perry thinking that a line’s shocking forwardness (“You were raped by your uncle,” Madea says out of the blue) will get some sort of message across.
In other realms, the brain activity put into Madea’s Big Happy Family is very relaxed, if not very first draft. The humor works on one concept until it has died, gone to heaven, and then righteously sent to hell (Aunt Bam’s weed habit). A couple of jokes about stereotypes are made, (Moss’ impersonation of women) and in typical Perry fashion are later actualized by his close-minded ability when it comes to character structure. A lot of the dialogue, especially spoken by Madea, hardly sounds like it was actually written down. Instead, Perry, in women’s clothing, must have told cameras to roll, before going on one of his numerous “inspirational” rants that includes many repeated sentences within a certain monologue, and sound like Perry wishes he could still be in the theater, improvising.
It is also worth mentioning that Isaiah Mustafa earns the award this round for “Worst Actor,” with the Old Spice mascot still acting like he’s supposed to be stiff, and standing in place.
Maury Povich’s daytime trash talk show is used at the end of the film, and in this case, its usage within a movie is not funny. Instead, with a Tyler Perry movie, it’s inevitable. In what feels like every scene of the film, a character is ranting like a main attraction on “Maury.” The drama within Madea’s Big Happy Family is created with the same desire to shock an easily moved audience, but looks just as fantastically silly as any moment someone on “Maury” takes a DNA test to find out whether he is or isn’t someone’s baby daddy. Perhaps not surprisingly, Perry decides to end his movie with the drama of who Cora’s (Madea’s daughter) real father is, as presented as an episode of this show.
The parallels between Povich’s show and Perry’s own mildly amusing chain of events further prove that this movie isn’t very thought out. Perry thinks he’s got a good gag going by putting the foul-mouthed, ex-ghetto Madea on a circus like “Maury,” but instead is making a comment on just how inane his own film(s) can be.
Despite all of this – despite all of his past misfires, despite even his disaster of a serious adaptation (For Colored Girls), Tyler Perry is still a filmmaker to believe in. His slightly lighter dramatic hand with Madea’s Big Happy Family could be the sign of some growth for the writer/director, or a possible enlightenment towards real dramatic logic. Or, maybe Perry’s mind has been saving up its brain power for something truly memorable, something that will he give us one day after his numerous experiences with confused co-workers (“You want me to say what?”). Until then, the words of Tyler Perry will always continue to be half thought-out.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10