Review: “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family”
Produced by: Tyler Perry, Reuben Cannon, Roger M. Bobb
Written by: Tyler Perry
Edited by: Maysie Hoy
Cinematography by: Alexander Gruszynski
Music by: Aaron Zigman
Starring: Tyler Perry, Loretta Devine, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, David Mann, Cassi Davis, Tamela Mann, Lauren London, Isaiah Mustafa, Rodney Perry, Shannon Kane, Teyana Taylor
Based on the musical play by Tyler Perry
I watched a pretty bad movie this weekend, the Robin Williams-starring What Dreams May Come, but even that trite piece of cloying rubbish couldn’t come close to satiating my craving for bad cinema, apparently. And so I ran through my Netflix queue and discovered that, long ago, I had stashed away a Tyler Perry movie for just such an occasion. And, well, I did it. I finally did it. After watching about 70% of Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman on TBS and then not being able to take any more, I finally watched my first complete Tyler Perry production, Madea’s Big Happy Family. And, oh my God, I don’t know how I got through it. (Actually, maybe I do. Here’s a hint: it rhymes with “bin and chronic.”)
You see, this isn’t a bad movie. This was barely even anything resembling a movie. To call it a movie would suggest that there is cohesion or a common theme running through it. It implies purpose and plot. It implies that the filmmakers had at least some semblance of artistic vision when they chose to take on the project. Madea’s Big Happy Family has none of these things, and, by reviewing it and thus putting it in the same category as comparative works of art like Catwoman and 2012, I feel almost guilty.
There’s a moment in this… thing… where Madea, the sassy old giantess played by Perry himself, is waiting in line at the drive-thru only to hear that they’re out of the multiple ingredients of a breakfast sandwich. Not only that, the window manager just happens to be talking on the phone endlessly. Now, before I tell you what she does, keep in mind that in Tyler Perry’s world, Madea is supposed to be the solid voice of reason and defender of common decency.
So, when I tell you that Madea drives her car through the wall of the populated restaurant and shouts threats at the girl in retaliation and without any consequence to prove her point about how the kids of the world these days just don’t respect other people, but then, later in the film, she’s berating her niece’s kids for their own personal issues, which include childhood pregnancy and marital discord, while invoking Jesus and the Bible in a moment of laying down the truth and telling it like it is and how ought to be (a.k.a., tying up all the loose threads in one fell swoop, thus absolving Mr. Perry of the hard task of actually letting the characters develop), what is your first impression of this film? Are you expecting a a boisterous, loud, slapstick comedy filled with cartoon violence and bigger-than-life characters or are you picturing a serious drama about the often ugly hardships of life, where shocking revelations about lifelong secrets that could change a person’s life forever are just around the corner?
See, that’s the thing about this film: it’s both and neither at the same time. Madea’s Big Happy Family is what happens when Tyler Perry takes all the craziness of primetime sitcoms from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s (there are even disrespectful kids who are absorbed in their joysticks and bleep-blooping Atari games, despite this being set in the modern day) and mashes it together with the most melodramatic emotional dramas a la Lifetime TV, throws them into a mixing bowl, and then neglects to stir thoroughly after a few flicks of the wrist. The result is an inconsistent, unpalatable product with an identity crisis. It’s a film where characters like the towering, speechifying Madea and the pot-smoking, rambling, beehive-bestowed Aunt Bam share a table with characters who are ignoring the needs of their secretly dying mother, who wants nothing more than to have one last happy family dinner but instead has to suffer through her selfish kids revealing dark secrets behind the parentage of one of the film’s most troubled characters out of pure malice towards one another. It’s a confusing, disjointed mess of elements, and, what’s more, none of the several plot threads get satisfyingly resolved.
Perhaps the worst part about this is that a few of the actors even seem to be floundering, trying to hold themselves up in this regretful concoction. Loretta Devine, playing the gentle, dying matriarch of this dysfunctional family, and (of all people) Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, playing the young son who struggles to handle the consequences of young and unexpected fatherhood, both seem to be trying their best to actually act and lend their characters the weight that they require. Sadly, the material never throws them a lifeline. Devine is ultimately relegated to background status, an excuse to call all these randomly assembled characters together until it inevitably comes time to have her big emotional moment, and Moss is saddled with the burden of playing a serious character forced to play off two of the most annoying comic reliefs in a film filled with annoying comic reliefs: his exhaustively obnoxious baby mama and his self-absorbed, money-obsessed girlfriend who, of course, doesn’t know the first thing about taking care of a baby and the economics of her boyfriend’s life.
Heck, you’ll even feel bad for Isaiah Mustafa, the man who showed us all his talent with delivering absurd humor in those famous Old Spice comercials, who unfortunately chose to play one of the movie’s two long-suffering husbands who are each married to one half of the feuding sister plotline. You’ll really start to feel how tragically undignified this film is for everyone involved, save for Mr. Perry himself and anyone else who hails from one of his TBS sitcoms. And Maury Povich, who plays some version of himself where he’s some defender of truth and justice in paternal disputes. (And, no, even in a film filled with absurd characters, it’s not even taking advantage of Mustafa’s absurdly masculine, deadpan joke delivery. Sure, it would be another been-there-done-that element, but at least it would’ve been one that everyone enjoyed at one point and not just Tyler Perry’s inexplicable fanbase. This is not how you branch out into bigger things, Mr. Mustafa! Your cameo on the under-appreciated and wonderfully silly spy show Chuck was ultimately more enjoyable and dignified than what you’re doing here!)
Watching the ironically-named Madea’s Big Happy Family is, I guess, a lot like an hour and 45 minutes flipping through channels and finally realizing that none of the programming is any good, then feeling really horrible about yourself for having wasted all that time when you could’ve been watching a proper. I would seriously begin to regret the commitment I made to watch A Madea Christmas in theatres later this year, if only it weren’t for my conviction to be there at the end of all things — when Tyler Perry and Larry the Cable Guy join forces and, for the first time ever, bring together people from all races and creeds in unanimous hatred toward a single film and, thus, bringing about world peace. Amen.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0.5 / 5