Madea jumps into action when her niece, Shirley, receives distressing news about her health. All Shirley wants is to gather her three adult children around her and share the news as a family. But Tammy, Kimberly and Byron are too distracted by their own problems: Tammy can't manage her unruly children or her broken marriage; Kimberly is gripped with anger and takes it out on her husband; and Byron, after spending two years in jail, is under pressure to deal drugs again. It's up to Madea, with the help of the equally rambunctious Aunt Bam, to gather the clan together and make things right the only way she knows how: with a lot of tough love, laughter ... and the revelation of a long-buried family secret.
His films have grossed more than five hundred million dollars since Madea made her first cinematic appearance in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” in 2005. He is the first African-American to own a major film and TV studio. And Forbes magazine ranked him as the sixth highest-paid man in Hollywood in 2009.
Did fame come easily for Mr. Perry? Not in the slightest.
Overcoming suicidal tendencies resulting from child molestation and abuse from his father, Perry crafted a narrative format blending family drama and slapstick humor in the form of live theater. After his stage plays gained momentum from audiences across the nation, Perry adapted his low-budget performances into cinematic box-office hits.
Exploring controversial subject material and incorporating absurdist comic devices such as cross-dressing, Perry’s media empire is a collection of films, television shows, and stage plays that consistently represent the troubled African-American family as it suffers from real world calamity and conflicted relationships.
No wonder why Oprah Winfrey is such a loyal fan of his work. His stories involve the horrors of the real world that are tranquilized by his rampant use of ribald comedy. The central theme of religious faith is always deeply positioned within the story context. In the face of impending adversity, his characters are often saved by their own self-reliance and beliefs in spirituality.
So, why would someone like Spike Lee have any problem with his success?
Ultimately, Lee argues that Perry’s movies depict a racist and unfavorable perspective of African-Americans. Yes, Mr. Perry, it’s true. Not even you are safe from the harsh and condescending opinion belonging to Spike Lee’s megalomania. Welcome to the world.
Remarkably, I feel compelled to agree with Mr. Lee in that Perry bases his humor on the buffoonery of black people behaving inappropriately. Madea is constantly depicted as childish, inarticulate, and prone to outlandish violence. In the movie’s final act, Madea seeks resolution by appearing on The Maury Povich Show. What can be more belittling than that?
Then again, is it fair to criticize Perry for exploiting the humorous interpretations behind these racial stereotypes? How is this different from Woody Allen’s ongoing mockery of Jewish paranoid anxiety? What about Italian-American filmmakers and their films of Mafia involvement within the Italian community?
Of course, this argument prospers on the assumption that it is by all means permissible to ridicule one’s own ethnicity. If the Wayans family can be celebrated for their ethnocentric humor, then why should we scorn Perry? After all, he simply seems to be giving his audiences what they want.
The problem with Perry is not that he unfairly depicts African-Americans as a hot-tempered and mismanaged race prone to violence and irresponsible action. The problem is that his movies are simply not very funny.
Every punchline is obvious and predictable because every character acts exactly as the audience expects. There is not an ounce of ironic development anywhere near the storyline, which is repetitive and basic. The comedy is loud, intrusive, and not at all in sync with the intensive drama surviving around the chaos. Imagine you’re watching “Waiting to Exhale” and it suddenly becomes “In Living Color”.
It seems that whenever a character is given the opportunity to say something profound or wittily insightful, Perry breaks out his bible and spreads the word of God in place of dramatic response. This may be scrupulous and moralistic, but that doesn’t make it clever or particularly entertaining.
But Perry deserves to be complimented when it comes to thematic composition. Despite his appearance in that ridiculous dress, the man has balls. In order to portray the suffering humanity of his characters, he will reference topics as sinister as rape, slavery, and prostitution. For example, a do-gooder public defender supplies her heroine-addicted friend with clean needles. It is when Perry channels these taboo subjects and graphic realities that he appears like the great filmmaker he was destined to become.
And it seems a shame that all of the grim drama in “Big Happy Family”, however inconclusive, needs to share screen time with what passes for his comedy. Now that he has found his audience, why not kick it up a notch and leave the Medea dress in the closet? In order to evolve as a filmmaker, Perry may want to take note of Woody Allen’s career. While making “Interiors”, Allen thought it was important the picture was completely absent of humor. Some people consider it his greatest work.