By: Addison Wylie
Tyler Perry is an incredibly smart businessman. I’m not sucking up or anything; I legitimately think Perry is very bright. He knows exactly who his plays and movies are geared towards and he knows how to please his fan base. He also has a strong voice and millions of people are willing to listen to him. So, if he has such an outspoken fierce voice, why is he making rubbish like Madea’s Big Happy Family? I don’t mean “why is he adapting his work”; that’s an easy question. He’s adapting his plays for the silver screen in order to reach those fans who can’t to attend one of his theatrical performances. My question is in regards to the quality of his films; the ones he helms. Perry has directed nine of these films and with Madea’s Big Happy Family, Perry strikes my last nerve and proves to me that he shouldn’t be directing his own feature film adaptations.
Don’t let the title fool you. There is more drama than happiness involved with this family Madea is apart of. Shirley, played by Loretta Devine, has saddening news. Shirley’s cancer is striking back and is handicapping her badly. All Shirley wants to do is tell her loving family the news. However, that task is easier said than done. Young Byron, played by Shad ‘Bow Wow’ Moss, is constantly getting harassed by Sabrina, his baby’s Momma. Sabrina is played by Teyana Taylor.
There are also two husbands having a hard time understanding their wives. One of these husbands Calvin, played by Isaiah Mustafa, is confused as to why his wife Kimberly, played by Shannon Kane, is embarrassed about her family. While Harold, played by Rodney Perry, feels bullied by his wife Tammy, played by Natalie Desselle Reid, and his kids.
There’s also a side-story involving the recurring character Brown, played by David Mann, and his daughter Cora, played by Tamela J. Mann. Brown believes he’s deathly ill after receiving some impacting news from his Doctor. Cora, on the other hand, knows Brown will be ok but she’s shaken up to hear some other issues involving her Father.
Perry, who has directed this film and has returned as the Madea character, loves to form family dramas. However, he has a great deal of trouble developing his characters. I can’t comment on his plays because I haven’t seen those but in regards to the characters I’m seeing on screen, these personas are thin and bare. It feels as if Perry doesn’t develop the characters so much as he sticks an actor with a specific problem or quirk. The actor then must flesh out the character their playing based on that specific complication. Take Devine’s Shirley for example. It feels like the only element she had to build a convincing character on was the fact that Shirley has cancer. Movie goers know zero background information on her except the fact that she has cancer. All her motives feel dull because Devine has nothing to drive them on except that cancer card. This method of character development can be applied to every character on screen. Perry tries to use this procedure for a dramatic effect (Byron and his baby or the fact that he has a history of drug dealing) and for comedic effect (Aunt Bam, played by Cassi Davis, loves to smoke weed) but in the end, all Perry has is a group of underdeveloped caricatures who have nothing interesting to say; literally.
Some of the actors are delivering their lines at such rapid pace that most of the lines in the film are thrown away due to them being incomprehensible. When we do hear the dialogue, it’s unfunny and feels like its been stripped out of a soap opera. The script is confusing and disheartening as well. Screenwriter Perry wants to teach good natured morals and convey light religious messages but he also wants to joke about hitting kids and abusing annoying Mothers. For instance, Perry plays another recurring character named Joe. Although Joe has been funny before (in Diary of a Mad Black Woman which Perry didn’t direct), I couldn’t help but be put off by his “1-800-Choke-A-Hoe” puns. I’m aware that it’s all in good fun with Perry and judging by the heavy laughter that was happening in my screening, it may be that Perry’s sense of humour isn’t for me. Whether I find the jokes funny or not though, I do know how a joke should be told. Here, Perry clumsily writes and directs prat falls and brash deliveries. There’s an annoying running joke involving the baby Momma character Sabrina where whenever she says Byron’s name, she adds additional “annn’s” to the end of his name. The joke isn’t funny the first time and it sure isn’t funny the umpteenth time we hear “annnn” dragged out even longer. Perry insists that the more his audiences will hear the joke, the more hilarious it will become. Little does Perry know after the fifth persistent take of the joke, I’m slouched in my seat massaging my temples.
The movie may not be great or even decent but occasionally with Madea’s Big Happy Family, as well as with other Perry directed films, audiences can see glimpses of acting potential. The two actors that stood out to me were Bow Wow and Mustafa. In a few scenes, these actors have been told to emote and not speak. This role is more of a dramatic step for Bow Wow and he tackles these emotions flawlessly. Same goes for Mustafa. For those unfamiliar with Mustafa’s work, he plays “the perfect man” in those popular Old Spice ads. Here, he’s given a much larger role and he manages to do some neat things emotionally with that character. However, since the writing and the direction is tremendously ham-fisted, these two performances get bogged down. Even in scenes where Calvin is talking to Byron about relationships and the baby, the acting takes a turn for the worse and becomes very wooden. All their charisma we’ve seen previously has vanished.
I think it’d be a very wise move for Perry to step down from the Director role. If not for good, then at least for a short period of time. With Perry’s frank views, I think there is some good content hidden somewhere among the wreckage. I think if Perry could see what his films could ultimately be like under different and better direction, he would be quite pleased with the product. It may also mean his movies could connect with people outside of his target audience more successfully.
However, if Perry still feels the need to direct his own work, he needs to seriously reevaluate his script and his directorial plans in more detail to fine tune those characters, stories, and jokes. This is the only way he’ll be able to win back me as well as people that doubt his talents.