Sunday, May 26, 2024

Madea Deserves a Better Send Off in ‘A Madea Family Funeral’

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Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral is an ugly thrown together mess of a movie. Granted, this is on par for most of Perry’s movies. But after some twenty movies Perry seems to defy any kind of learning curve. Touted as the last Madea appearance, it is a flabbergastingly empty movie overstuffed with characters with little to do or say.

Perry’s Madea anthology is a mixed bag. The quality of the films varies so wildly we can even play a game while we watch them. The game is figuring out exactly how much Perry wants to be here. To Perry’s credit, this time around it seems as if he genuinely wants to don the Madea wig—if only because it’s the final time.

Even the best Madea movies are riddled with issues both dramatic and technical. Oftentimes the issues are as basic as staging the myriad of characters into a single shot. Perry has been doing this for over a decade and yet seems incapable of understanding not everybody has to be in every shot. But at times he and Madea somehow rise above it all despite all odds and entertain. Perry’s talent is undeniable. It is his ego that usually sinks a film.

Madea movies, however, are not meant as exercises of Orson Wellian brilliance. They are comfort food served in a cast iron formula. Perry will don wigs, false teeth, and dresses and play multiple characters. The core three being Madea, her brother Joe, and Joe’s son Brian, which is just Perry out of costume. With them will be Bam (Cassie Davis) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). These characters will either be dragged or force themselves, into a situation involving either family or the local justice department. Sometimes, if Perry is feeling ambitious, both.

The films will boast a cast of characters so large that Marvel and DC would be jealous of the franchise possibilities. But, Perry’s slipshod way of filmmaking will make it almost impossible at times to remember them all. Figuring out who is related to who can oftentimes lead to deep google searches in an effort to parse out the family tree.

Bear with me, this going to be tricky. Anthony (Derek Morgan) and Vianne (Jen Harper) are celebrating their anniversary. The rest of the family decide to plan a surprise party for them. For a normal screenwriter, this would be enough, if maybe a nice setup.

But Perry, as usual, in an effort to simplify, overcomplicates. Anthony is having an affair with a family friend, Renee (Quin Walters). Their youngest son Jessie (Rome Flynn) is engaged to Gia (Aeriel Miranda) who is having an affair with Jessie’s brother A.J. (Courtney Burrell). Understand Madea and the rest are merely going to the party. Perry has stuffed the film with more story than character but fails to distribute the material evenly.

Anthony dies by choking on a ball gag while having a tryst with Renee in a hotel. Next door AJ and Gia are having a tryst of their own. Who should be in the lobby but Madea, Joe, Brian, Hattie, and Bam. Thus follows a patented Tyler Perry shot of some seven to eight characters within a single shot awkwardly framed while commenting on what’s happening off-screen.

The anniversary becomes a funeral and the affairs and family secrets threaten to boil over. Perry handles all of this with the subtlety of a flaming sledgehammer. Yet, it’s unfair to say nothing works or that Perry is sleepwalking. Don’t get me wrong A Madea Family Funeral is an eyesore whose runtime is padded to the extent we wonder if it was really edited at all.

Still, I couldn’t help but be a little impressed with the look of A Madea Family Funeral. If only because it seemed as if at least some time was taken on figuring out where to put the camera. I’m not suggesting it was the right place to put the camera. I’m just saying it’s the rare instance of appearing as if, at the very least, a discussion had taken place. Richard J Vilaet, Perry’s longtime cinematographer seems to have been given actual time to plan out his shots, awkward staging aside.

Vilaet shot Boo 2! A Madea Family Funeral; a movie which is hands down one of the sloppiest movies I’ve ever seen in the theaters. On the other hand, Vilaet also shot Acrimony, also a Perry film, and it’s one of the most gorgeous films in Perry’s oeuvre. Understand, when I call it gorgeous, I am comparing it to other Perry films, not other films in general. A Madea Family Funeral is not on par with Acrimony but is leaps and bounds better than Boo 2! All of this is further proof of the complicated yin and yang relationship between director and cinematographer.

One scene involving Madea, Bam, Cassie, Joe, and Brian stands above the movie as a whole. On the way to the hotel for the anniversary, the quintet is pulled over by the cops. What follows is a somewhat daring scene in which all but Brian begin to get nervous. Madea and Joe start to plan their escape while Cassie and Bam lament not having a cell phone to record what may transpire. Keep in mind throughout all of this the cop hasn’t even approached them.

The fear comes from the mere idea and anticipation of the cop talking to them. Brian attempts to be the voice of reason, as he tries to calm everyone down. “Relax. Those other people got shot because they were breaking the law. We’re fine.” Madea and Joe’s anxiety is borne less from the fact that they may have outstanding warrants and more from the fact that they may be shot without the officers knowing about the outstanding warrants.

Scenes like this are a startling reminder of the audacity of Perry’s talent. Police brutality against blacks while hotly discussed online, is a topic curiously absent from most films. Perry’s willingness to even engage with the subject reminds us of Perry’s social consciousness.

Perry loves combining gross-out jokes and broad slapstick humor with heavy-handed moralization. Like the sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer or Adam Sandler, Perry adores mixing outlandish behavior with Grandma Moses morality. Perry’s films always end with a sermon delivered right to the audience about how faith and community matters. Hokey and laughable but still, it’s who Perry is. To some degree, you have to admire his commitment to his own personal philosophy. Even if does have Madea ending the film with a long-winded rambling sermon that feels like Perry trying to cover all his bases.

A Madea Family Funeral has far too much going on while handling it in such a way as to make it feel as if nothing is happening. We have no less than two affairs amidst a funeral that Vianne for no real reason asks Madea to plan. Take Carol (Kj Ellis) AJ’s long-suffering wife for instance. She is one of the main characters in the movie, it’s her marriage going up in flames and she has little to nothing to do or say about any of it.

AJ’s sister Silvia (Ciera Payton) and her husband Will (David Otunga) have less to do. They don’t even have an arch or story of their own. They are doomed, like the rest of the cast, to exist in reaction shots giving their approval or disapproval. Out of everybody in the movie, they are the sanest and healthiest, which also makes them the lest interesting.

I’m in no way knocking Payton or Otunga’s abilities or talents. I am however questioning Perry’s ego. His antics as Madea, Joe, and his newest creation, Heathrow, monopolize much of A Madea Family Funeral. Heathrow is merely Joe, just in different form. He adds nothing and takes away time that could have been filled with the other characters helping the story along.

Drawn-out scenes where Perry and company banter back and forth seems to linger for eternity while the story languishes offscreen. It doesn’t mean that occasionally these scenes aren’t funny. The part where they were in the hospital room and Madea was trying to keep the others in line is funny. But not near funny enough to justify having characters seem useless because Perry has taken all the screen time for himself.

Billed as Perry’s final Madea movie, A Madea Family Funeral never feels like the end. On the contrary, it feels just like another Madea movie. It may be by design in case Perry changes his mind. In the end, as Madea and company leave she shouts, “I’m gone. I’m done. You kids are going to have figure this out for yourself.”

It’s a line that feels less aimed at the characters within the movie and more aimed at fans sitting in the audience. A Madea Family Funeral then ends with a fart joke. A perfect note for Madea to go out on.

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

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