Madea’s Big Happy Family cashes in on uncomfortable stereotypes and overblown melodrama
Starring Tyler Perry, Shannon Kane, and Natalie Desselle Reid. Rated PG.
I’m at a genuine loss to explain the phenomenal box-office success of Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise. The series—which stars writer-director Perry as a droopy-chested, trash-talking grandma who expresses domestic concern by continually threatening to break out a can of old-school “whup-ass”—is loaded with the kind of uncomfortable stereotypes and overblown melodrama that’s become Perry’s lucrative trademark. He’s been bombarded with savage critical shots by everyone from baffled reviewers to fellow director Spike Lee. Perry’s reaction? He just keeps chugging along, fearlessly exploiting his brassy—and frequently cartoonish—vision of African-American life.
Watch the trailer for Tyler Perry Madea's Big Happy Family. />
In Madea’s Big Happy Family, Perry throws more ingredients than usual into the emotional stew pot. Family matriarch Shirley (the dignified Loretta Devine) suffers from terminal cancer. She wants to break the news to her dysfunctional family over dinner.
The problem? Her brood includes a veritable soap opera of troubled relationships. There’s Byron (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss), a former drug dealer who’s trying to go straight for the sake of his infant son. There’s Kimberly (Shannon Kane), a successful real-estate agent with a vicious cruel streak. And then there’s Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid), a frustrated wife and mother who lives to make her husband miserable.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Dark complications emerge through the kind of relentlessly shrill banter that’s enough to give anyone a migraine. No wonder Madea keeps offering to solve the entire situation by knocking a few empty heads together. What passes for comic relief is provided by a variety of elderly characters who do everything from chain-smoke dope to cackle with glee while spewing lines like: “Call 1-800-Choke-That-Whore!” If you like this sort of thing, you’re welcome to it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.