Tyler Perry thumbs nose at critics with new 'Madea' movie

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Tyler Perry is mad. Here is a man who has made 13 stage plays, 12 films, two hit TV shows, and one New York Times bestseller, yet cultural critics still treat him like the scourge of black culture. What’s a brother got to do to get some respect around here? Remake a Ntozake Shange play? Partner with the most powerful black woman in the world? Attempt a career as a legitimate actor?

Yet none of those things worked. No Oscars, no props, nary a handshake for trying to break out of the mold and do something different.

Click here to view a Grio slideshow of Tyler Perry’s big happy Hollywood family

And so the gloves have come off. What’s a brother to do when he can’t get love from the critics? Go back to doing what you do best, and get the money that comes naturally.

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Thus we arrive to Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, the first Medea-headlined film to be released since 2009. I decamped to a Harlem theater for a midnight showing, studying up (if you will) on how, if at all, Madea has changed since Perry’s foray into more serious artistic endeavors.

And survey says…ain’t much changed. At this point, Madea-centric movies are carbon copy comedy-dramas, a world filled with angry women, emasculated men, disrespectful children, disrespected mothers, comedy, death and drama, drama, drama.

The short of Madea’s Big Happy Family: Loretta Divine plays a breathlessly naïve and distressed matriarch who must break the news of her impending death to her three ungrateful and dysfunctional kids. Five storylines happen in this movie: three revolve on the separate dramas of the children, one on Madea’s quest to quickly resolve everyone’s problem with some down-home wisdom and comical threats, and another on the health status of Madea’s baby daddy Mr. Brown, which I’m fairly confident exists solely for the purpose of getting a paternity test on The Maury Povich Show (spoiler alert: not the father).

If you’ve seen any of Perry’s Madea films, you’ll find this one no different than the others. The women are disturbingly angry, the men are annoyingly cloying and timid, there’s a church scene (with song) and a dinner table confrontation/confessional. Fans of Perry’s films will like it because it sticks to the mold, and it will likely hit the $30 million box office sales projected for it’s debut weekend.
Critics, of course, will hate it. Madea is as brassy and caricatured as ever — her first scene involves running her car into a fast food joint. Plus, Perry’s added a few more characters to fill out the humorously ignorant category, including the weed-smoking Aunt Bam, and the scene-stealing debut of actress Teyana Taylor, as a money-grubbing ghetto baby momma who will irrevocably change the way the name Byron is pronounced forever.

It almost feels like Perry is trying to push critics to the limit in this film. The stereotypes run rampant, including an arrest for back child support, multiple references to The Maury Povich Show, illogically angry black women married to spineless men, an ex-con, a successful but bitter and heartless black woman…the list goes on. There are tons of easy targets of offense in this movie, and maybe Tyler Perry liked it that way. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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I’m no big Perry fan myself, however once I lowered my expectations, and just settled in for 90 minutes of entertainment, I confess, I actually thought the movie was okay. Decent even. I laughed a few times.

And therein lies the secret of enjoying (or at least accepting) a Tyler Perry film. You don’t go to Madea movies for complex character driven narratives, you go for the laughs. You can’t be mad at Tyler Perry for not being culturally highbrow anymore than you can be mad at a duck for not being a swan. It’s just not, and expecting Perry to do, be and create from anything other than himself is narrow-minded, arrogant and elitist. Fact is, a lot of people like and identify with Perry’s work, and they shouldn’t be robbed of the experience of seeing their stories told onscreen because it’s too gauche or tacky. One man’s gauche is another man’s masterpiece.

Click here to view a slideshow of theGrio’s 20 favorite black film directors

Tyler Perry’s strong card is his ability to get the joke, and if, IF, you can plug your ears and shield your eyes to all that is stereotypical and offensive to this film (and I agree, it can be a challenge), you too may laugh at Madea’s Big Family Reunion. There’s even some PSA-worthy moments in the movie to boot. Walking out of the theater, everyone seemed really happy and satisfied. Who am I (and who is Spike Lee) to tell them they are wrong in their enjoyment?

I suppose Tyler Perry’s work ethic must be: If it ain’t broke, and haters gone hate anyway, don’t fix it.