Tyler Perry’s movies are surprisingly liberating in light of their seriously preachy nature. The visionary playwright/screenwriter/director/actor returns after the enormous success of Diary Of A Mad Black Woman as 68-year-old Southern matriarch Grandma Mabel “Madea” Simmons in a homespun story set in Georgia where Madea restores some semblance of self-respect to her diverse family at their family reunion.
Domestic violence, incest and greed are some of the issues that boil over in this sweet and sour comedy that adheres to theatrical guidelines that are seldom politically correct. A lively R&B soundtrack and impressive cameo performances by Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou invigorate the finely drawn burlesque.
Madea’s troubled nieces Lisa (Rochelle Aytes—White Chicks) and Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) carry the scars of abusive childhoods that haunt them in their daily lives. Lisa is engaged to Carlos (Blair Underwood—Rules Of Engagement) a wealthy banking consultant incapable of controlling his temper toward her. The movie opens to the strains of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” while a helicopter shot of the city of Georgia zooms in on an idyllic penthouse apartment where Lisa is led by her fiance to a palatial bathtub filled with rose petals while live violinists play. The serene circumstance is shattered when we realize that this is Carlos’ juvenile way of overcompensating for the physical abuse he levied against Lisa the night before.
Lisa’s half-sister Vanessa is a protective single mother living in fear of ever again entering into an intimate relationship with a man even though her kindly public bus driver Brian (Boris Kadjoe) is constantly trying to arrange a date. Victoria (Lynn Whitfield) is the maternal common denominator between the two young women, and the untold behind-the-scenes reason for much of her daughters’ grief. Victoria has quietly been meeting with Carlos to insure her daughter’s marriage into the upper class echelon that will satisfy her own bourgeoisie desires.
The eloquent synergy that Perry sets up between these two very authentic women (Lisa and Vanessa) against their unspeakably cruel mother is beautifully offset by the comic antics that Madea practices with her every breath. Madea’s motto, “Remember that life is sometimes hard, and you have to laugh your way through it,” comes across even without the line ever being spoken in the movie.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion is part of a body of work that cuts across class prejudices with a joke-ridden air of nostalgia for a time yet to come where dignity and respect are thoroughly integrated into American society from the bottom to the top. Although the movie is an unapologetic rally for family values, wisdom and spirituality, the tone is never condescending, patronizing or tame.
Perry is a retro-futurist with a natural knack for making audiences laugh. When he’s onscreen, in drag as Madea saying “Hallelujah” or in old-age make-up as the flatulent Uncle Joe, Perry is infectiously charismatic and hilarious in the same wise way that Groucho Marx was in his movies. There’s a magic here that points to the power of the human spirit to overcome personal, social and political oppression. It’s a good example of social satire. MTW