FILM REVIEW – A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL. Starring Tyler Perry, Cassie Davis, Patrice Lovely, Jen Harper and Courtney Burrell. Written and directed by Tyler Perry. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content, language, and drug references throughout.
Apologies for not taking Tyler Perry at his word that this eleventh big-screen appearance of his sass-mouthed, pistol-packin’ granny Mabel “Madea” Simmons will be her last. But if you’re gonna call the movie A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL and she ain’t the one in the box, then I’ve got some suspicions.
Why would Perry quit when he’s so far ahead? The writer-director-performer-mogul has admirably built his own massive entertainment empire entirely independent of the entrenched white Hollywood power structure. (Madea’s first movie, “Diary Of A Mad Black Woman,” opened in the nationwide box office top ten without playing in a single Boston theater.) He delivered a deftly comic supporting turn in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” – less so in the lamentable “Vice” – but otherwise Perry appears perfectly content to stay away from the studios and continue wielding complete creative control over his own self-generated projects. Or, to borrow one of his own titles: “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.”
I find Tyler Perry films fascinating in how violently they whiplash from juvenile tastelessness to churchy sermonizing and back again – the lowest of lowbrow comedy interrupted by exhortations to get right with Jesus. Meanwhile, all of this is staged with such little regard or consideration for the basic principles of filmmaking that certain scenes approach the realm of outsider art. (Not since Kevin Smith has a director worked so often and learned so little about the nuts and bolts of his craft.)
“A Madea Family Funeral” is more of the same, placing our heroine in charge of the Baptist homegoing for a distant relative who was something of a dog. In fact, the man met his heavenly reward while wearing a ball-gag during some rough S&M play with his wife’s best friend. Making matters more difficult is that the generously apportioned deceased died with an erection so large the coffin won’t close all the way.
This leads to many admittedly amusing scenes of Madea wailing about while whaling on her regular sidekicks Aunt Bam (Cassie Davis), Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and brother Joe –who, like Madea, is played by Perry in old age makeup that will hardly have Rick Baker losing sleep at night. The crew is joined by Uncle Heathrow – played by Perry again, this time in a wheelchair and talking through an artificial voice box Madea likens to a vibrator for her ears. (Heathrow is bald on the top of his head but keeps his remaining hair long in what’s presumably the world’s first Jheri Curl mullet.)
The movie’s fine when all the old folks are bickering and bantering with little regard for propriety or good taste. (I lost it when Madea hit Joe so hard she knocked the dentures out of his mouth.) But as this is a Tyler Perry film, there are also way too many serious subplots about couples coping with infidelity, complete with scorching, heartfelt monologues and heavy dramatic performances keyed more toward the kind of movie that doesn’t have nearly as many jokes about a dead guy’s boner.
Despite Perry’s public claims, this ”Funeral” leaves plenty of room for more Madea movies in the future, the character herself noting how much she’s mellowed and matured over this series of films: “These days I don’t even hit a bitch in the mouth unless she says something I don’t like.” See, there’s life in the old girl yet.•••
Over the past twenty years Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.