THEATRICAL REVIEW: Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas
Produced by: Tyler Perry, Ozzie Areu, Matt Moore
Written by: Tyler Perry
Edited by: Maysie Hoy
Cinematography by: Alexander Gruszynski
Music by: Christopher Young
Starring: Tyler Perry, Anna Maria Horsford, Larry the Cable Guy, Tika Sumpter, Kathy Najimy, Chad Michael Murray, Eric Lively, Alicia Witt, Lisa Whelchel, Noah Urrea, JR Lemon, Jonathan Chase
Adapted from the musical play by Tyler Perry
I used to think that this would be a sign of the apocalypse – Tyler Perry teaming up with Larry the Cable Guy to make a movie together. When I joked about such a thing happening all the way back in January when I was reviewing the films of 2012, I mentioned that if such a thing were going to happen, I would be among the first to see such an event take place, and it would be my first Tyler Perry film that I would spend good money on to see in theatres. Then, a few days later, God showed that He had a smug sense of humor with me when He deemed that such a thing would happen. And that it would not be released during the apocalypse, but rather during the celebration of His Son’s birth, and yet also on the official release date of December 13, 2013 – which, if you’re reading this far from now, you may not immediately know is also Friday the 13th. Very funny. You win again, God. Also, would you look at that? We’re all still here. I guess I should’ve known that not even Satan himself wouldn’t want his big finale to be upstaged by such a massive bomb as this.
Seriously, though, I was dreading the day that this would come out, as I felt a sort of obligation to actually stay true to my word based on that bizarre coincidence alone. I wound up skipping over Tyler Perry’s romantic melodrama Tyler Perry’s Temptation, as per my usual avoidance of his work, and with little guilt or obligation, but somehow my almost prophetic declaration regarding the teaming of these two racially divided contemporaries made me feel like it was almost a sort of promise that I made to no one in particular, except maybe to myself in a sort of accidentally suicidal pact. I did manage to avoid the actual Friday the 13th release date when I found out my go-to theatre had an early 8PM Thursday night showing, but still, the fact remains that 12/13/13 was the original release date, and that is surely a time period that will live in infamy for me for quite some time: the time when I went to go see a Tyler Perry movie in a massive theatre with, no doubt, all the die hard fans.
It was a tough experience. I’d asked for movie tickets to go see childish Disney movies like the recent Winnie the Pooh with less self-conscious embarrassment or worry over being judged than I did when I had to ask for the ticket to go see this thing. It was made all the worse when I had to repeat myself as I guess I wound up muttering the title to the cashier, who couldn’t hear me above the crowd of people from behind the glass. Then I had to enter the auditorium in front of all the people who were lining up for the midnight showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I was rather surprised to find that not many people showed up to see the movie, however.
I had figured that an early 8PM showing would result in a massive throng of Tyler Perry zealots showing up in droves, but then it occurred to me that these are common folk and not massive nerds like me and the people lined up out in the theatre hallway. They probably show up early on Saturday morning or after church on Sunday afternoon and don’t even think of looking up all possible showtimes from a website. Thursday night is a school and work night. Silly me. I sat there thinking about this, waiting for the movie to start as I also browsed various websites on my phone, sometimes looking for a review of the movie I was about to see. Apparently there still weren’t any at the time. I guess reviewers weren’t ready to see any early showings and churn out a review, either – they certainly didn’t have any early press screenings, as per the standard Tyler Perry practice of trying to avoid negative word of mouth, should critics see the films and warn moviegoers of the imminent cinematic lobotomy that awaits them. No wonder why these films do so relatively well at the box office.
I try not to judge people based on their taste in movies – I know perfectly intelligent and loving people who, nonetheless, run the gamut from being happily entertained to being absolutely adoring fans of Tyler Perry’s work, regardless of whether they are comedies or dramas. I myself have never been a fan, obviously, but I’d given a few of his comedic works a go just based on his popularity and to at least have a frame of reference for my misgivings, starting with Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, moving up to Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, and then Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection, which I watched one late, sleepless night this past summer while browsing Amazon’s Prime instant streaming service. I wasn’t amused by any of them, and I’ve admittedly steered clear of his dramas because his comedies are already rife with moralizing. The exposure I’ve had to the man and his work only helped get me to the levels of revulsion I currently feel toward anything Tyler Perry has created in his inexplicable career, so keep in mind I was already coming into this movie with a bias.
But I couldn’t help but make judgmental assumptions about the people sharing the auditorium with me. I’m not proud of it or excusing it, and I fully acknowledge that, like most prejudices, I’m not seeing the full picture and ultimately can’t make any moral judgments. But… seriously, these were people who still find that camel/hump day commercial hysterical, even when the joke is ruined and the pun that is the very foundation of the joke is removed by having the camel get excited not about humpday, but about a movie day instead and urging everyone to turn off their phones before the movie. These were people who feel the need to not just laugh at a joke or funny line, but also repeatedly repeat the lines they just heard that made them laugh in the first place. These were people who still found it gut-busting when the irascible Madea refers to Target as “Targét,” as if it were a French boutique, and love it when she references, yet again, her history of selling marijuana and dancing on a stripper pole. I’ve only now seen four Madea movies over a period of a couple years, and I can tell you now that, even if I’ve only seen 0.05% of the man’s more extensive output, I am already quite sick of it. It’s no longer inherently amusing because she’s and old woman, and Perry seems content in not even adding any variances on the same joke across his movies.
Oh my, I haven’t even gotten to the story proper, have I? It’s basically an inept knock off of Guess Who, which is itself a role-reversed, inferior remake of the classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, so that should give you some hint as to the quality of this piece of work. The primary plot involves Madea’s niece, Eileen, as she becomes convinced that something wrong is happening in her distant daughter’s life down in the South when she is informed that her daughter will not be joining her for Christmas this year. Naturally, Eileen insists that she is needed and convinces Madea to accompany her on the trip. Also along for the ride is her daughter’s old boyfriend, Oliver, who is really more of a convenient plot device for when the film needs someone to act smarmy, sexist, snobbish, or Anti-CHRISTmas. What they don’t know, however is that Eileen’s daughter, Lacey, is hiding a secret: she’s married, and to a white man, Conner. Turns out Eileen has some hang-ups regarding miscegenation, and so the film’s primary conceit is to focus on everybody’s efforts to keep Lacey and Conner’s secret, including Conner’s fully accepting and unfathomably accommodating parents.
Of course, the film’s plot thread contains some frayed strands that it would like for us to regard as sidestories that prop up the rest of the film, rather than excess material that Perry would have likely been wise to cut, were he as competent a filmmaker as he is a businessman. There’s some drama about the town’s hardships thanks to a big corporation that Oliver works for putting people out of business and then trying ineptly to save face by sponsoring their annual Christmas Jubilee and then requesting that all references to Jesus and Christianity be removed. One of the fathers who was put out of a job has a son in Lacey’s class named Bailey. Despite seemingly being worked hard night and day at home, Bailey is also excelling at school and has aspirations of singing in the jubilee, but his dreams are ignored by his hardass father and he’s picked on by the other kids in his class, and the father doesn’t take kindly to Lacey’s efforts to get him to encourage his son, either. This all comes together when Lacey’s job as one of those generic fairy tale teachers is then put on the line because… well, because. Oh, and Madea’s in there wandering around because it’s a Tyler Perry movie, though, honestly, despite the film carrying her name and many of the attempts at humor coming from her lips, she’s largely an inconsequential character in the grander scheme of themes – more like an old woman at a movie theatre who shouts at the screen in with long-winded quips that everyone else largely tries to ignore because she’s old and crazy, and they don’t know how else to deal with her.
The movie is just awful. It was an atrocity from the very beginning, when voice of reason Madea is shown working as an abusive customer service rep at the upscale department store that Eileen got her a job at. Its sense of humor is to pretend like the film is breaking new ground by reversing the role of the bigot and the oppressed, but then also have Madea criticize a poor middle aged woman who wants to buy some lingerie for being past her prime (and then suggesting she go get some modest pajamas from the aforementioned Targét). It takes a lot to make Larry the Cable Guy actually feel like the most likeable character in a film, but I’ll give Perry credit for at least this accomplishment – he and Kathy Najimy as Conner’s parents actually are the most reasonable and realistic people in the film, and – dare I say it? – the Cable Guy actually cracks some genuinely funny jokes, including one surprisingly racy one about vegetarians and eating meat that also manages to not embrace ignorance.
Still, this big cultural crossover is also a letdown, never being used to its fullest potential by not letting Madea and the Cable Guy trade so-bad-it’s-good comedic barbs with one another before coming to an inevitable but mutual understanding in the hypothetical movie I imagined. This monumental opportunity is instead wasted and used as a means of having the two actors’ personas actually have a somewhat serious conversation about the plight faced by interracial couples. What a letdown! The jokes that involve misunderstandings of the situation at hand (including the white parents’ goofy ghost-themed bedroom game or Eileen’s ignorance of what a yellow ribbon signifies), probably would’ve been more at home and better executed on a silly farce like Three’s Company, but in a movie where we’re also supposed to also be seriously contemplating the morality of prejudice, the plight of the working man, and the War on Christmas, they just make the characters look stupid and even more unlikable.
The film’s awfulness extends to even technical direction. The opening credits pop up in awkward locations of the screen, sometimes moving away from the camera as characters walk into them, causing them to dissolve, or sometimes just popping up and partly covering the face of one of the actors as they are speaking, as if the filmmakers suddenly realized they didn’t want to spend money on an opening title sequence but also realized they didn’t know how to properly integrate these credits with what they had already shot, but, hey, look at all the neat tricks this editing program can do! I suspect this is why they also have garish, glittering Christmas paraphernalia wiping across the screen for scene transitions, placed at random and often inappropriate times – a pivotal fight between two characters is just randomly interrupted by twirling toys and presents at one point.
Perhaps Perry would also like to reconsider his camerawork, too, as it’s just all over the place, either uncomfortably zoomed in on actors or their faces when there could have been a nice establishing shot (such as when Eileen is admiring a mostly out of frame Christmas tree) or is bizarrely showing a long shot of an entire kitchen or closet-sized classroom as two characters talk to one another as the others are just standing there waiting to say their next line (which may take a while since Tyler Perry also likes to improv ad nauseum). One particular shot of an early conversation between Lacey and Bailey suggests that actress Tika Sumpter was possibly reading her lines off cue cards, as her gaze is most definitely not matching up with the boy’s – I deduced this because the back of his head was also threatening to eclipse her face. I actually started thinking I had somehow missed it being mentioned that her character was supposed to be blind until I realized it was just bad filmmakers allowing for bad acting.
While it’s been explained to me before, I’ve still yet to understand the appeal of both Tyler Perry and Larry the Cable Guy, though Lord knows I’ve tried. Most of all, though, I don’t really understand the fans who continue to give these guys money – particularly the Tyler Perry ones who somehow throw enough money at the man that he’s been able to build himself such a successful multimedia empire. It’s maddening to me how something so obviously awful to not just myself but seemingly every professional critic out there, to the point where the studio would rather not allow them to review the movie ahead of time, are the same movies that are apparently so hilarious to so many other people that they continue to be so immensely profitable. Perhaps we are the ignorant ones? I get that they’re cheap to make and all, but it shows so much in the resulting product that it’s very literally painful to get through, so why so many fans? You bet I had a headache as I walked out. Not to mention my hurt pride in thinking that my belief that a Tyler Perry and Larry the Cable Guy buddy movie would never be made and would never result in my declaration of seeing such a pairing in theatres then become a self-imposed obligation. The experience has been painful enough for me to swear off ever watching another Tyler Perry movie in a context where I am unable to pause the movie to take breaks from the punishment at my leisure ever again. I’ve learned my lesson and pray that I will never utter words that would encourage such a catastrophe to befall me – nay, the world – ever again.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0 / 5