Madea’s Family Reunion
2006Director: Tyler Perry
Cast: Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Rochelle Aytes, Lynn Whitfield
hen I saw Diary of a Mad Black Woman on its opening day, in a crowded theatre in Flint, Michigan, the welcome wit of an interactive audience redeemed a trite and overbearing plot. Unfortunately for Tyler Perry, I saw Madea’s Family Reunion in a virtually empty screening on a sleepy weekday. Left to my own devices, with only this feeble film to entertain me, I found myself immensely displeased. Despite my respect for Perry’s business prowess, an impending barrage of feature-length retreads is hardly a pleasant prospect.
With the return of virtuous women who refuse to assert themselves, gentlemanly suitors who recoil at the prospect of sex, and an impractical family crisis, Madea’s Family Reunion borrows heavily from its predecessor. The story loosely hinges upon two sisters. Periodically beaten by her fiancée, Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) remains in an abusive situation to please her controlling mother. Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) raises two children alone because of the deep insecurity instilled by the same evil woman. This witch-like dowager (Lynn Whitfield) is completely irredeemable and, thus, an appropriate subject for a heart-warming message of forgiveness, Christian ethics, and corporal punishment.
Where Diary of a Mad Black Woman entertained with a punchy script, this story has only Points A and Z. The actors are clearly improvising (outtakes played over the closing credits reveal unhappy tensions on the set), and a series of awkward moments pervades the dialogue as characters confront one other, strain for conversation, and then flail madly for comedy. Unfortunately, these occasionally amusing attempts remain at the will of a turgid drama that, without rhyme or reason, jerks from screaming bitch slaps to tearful redemption.
Reunion dramatically cuts the comedic screen-time by reducing the infamous Madea to a peripheral character. When dealing with such a socially conservative film, my primary joy comes from the presence of a glorified drag queen. Whupass, grey eyebrows, saggy boobs, fresh skin, et cetera: The symbolic impact of Perry’s transvestite antics are much funnier than he probably intends. A vast profusion of gorgeous bare-chested men in every nook and cranny of the film (this lust is balanced only by an unconvincingly forced scene of creepy old men ogling a charming young lady) further compromises the director’s vision.
These delightful subtexts, however, are shoved aside in favor of bad drama. After witnessing an unusual narrative that includes tear-stained incest, wicked stepfathers, and abusive husbands, I can only hope that Perry never again tries to incorporate Toni Morrison into his scripts. The grittiness doesn’t really work against the backdrop of Christian ethos (not to mention a PG-13 comedy?); the horrendous crimes of the mother are hilariously countered by emotional lines like, “I forgive you with all my might and I’m gonna pray that God has mercy on your soul.” When this self-satisfied righteousness overwhelms, the mother re-establishes her wickedness by either seducing her future son-in-law or selling her progeny into prostitution.
None of this is to say that the movie is anything but terribly flawed. Despite my initial disgust for Reunion, I can’t help but bear a certain appreciation for the fact that this campy nonsense managed to garnish an impressive thirty million in its opening weekend. I’m not sure I approve of Perry taking the box-office by storm, but the result of his artistic freedom is in gorgeously bad taste. Should he lend this impulse toward drag, stories of victimized Christian women, and Lifetime-Special-proportioned tales of scandal, I’ll continue to watch with a pleased eye.