A woman dying of cancer wants her feuding children to come together and turns to Madea for help in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, the, I think, sixth or seventh Perry movie featuring his Madea character.
The movie works more or less the way I remember the last few of these Madea movies working — the Madea (Tyler Perry) sections of the movie are mostly for comic relief while the central plot is mostly drama. Here, Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and Shirley (Loretta Devine) are friends/relatives of Madea (the movie’s official info identifies Shirley as Madea’s neice) who pull Madea into Shirley’s story. Shirley has just been informed that her cancer has returned and she wants to tell her three children at the same time: daughters Tammy (Natalie Dessuelle) and Kimberly (Shannon Kane) and son Byron (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss). But that isn’t so easy — when they’re not fighting each other, they are fighting their own families. Tammy’s two sons are disrespectful and crazed and her relationship with her husband Harold (Rodney Perry) has degenerated into constant fighting and insults. Kimberly is irrationally angry at everyone (and if you’ve ever seen a Tyler Perry movie before, you know that kind of angry means dark secrets from her past), particularly husband Calvin (Isaiah Mustafa) but even her baby son. Young Byron has just come home from jail and is trying to get his life back together but his baby’s mother Sabrina (Teyana Taylor) and his new girlfriend Renee (Lauren London) are both leaning hard on him for money. A life of crime might be his only way to satisfy them. When Shirley can’t bring her children together, she turns to Madea for help.
Comic relief B plot has Madea and her brother Joe (also Perry) dealing with her daughter Cora (Tamela J. Mann) and Cora’s father Brown (David Mann).
The interweaving of these two parts of the movie is not the most subtle. Family drama yank fat joke yank family secret yank pot joke — being pulled between high melodrama and low comedy at this pace is a bit exhausting. Like so many of Perry’s Madea movies, this one ultimately tries to offer substantial commentary on half-a-dozen serious issues — paternal responsibility, child abuse, husband-and-wife relationships, discipline, familial unity, crime as a job option, diabetes — along with some more subtle stuff about race, all at lightning speed. With fat jokes and the increasingly exaggerated sight-gag that are Madea’s boobs interspersed. It’s a jumble and one that makes it hard to lose yourself in the story. Pick one, I wanted to say — be a big broad comedy with a little bit of message. Or be a melodrama with occasional guffaws. This particular blend is too much and not enough, all at the same time.
Particularly when it focuses on Madea and her family, the movie’s laughing-at/laughing-with balance seems out of whack. Perhaps because he’s spreading the franchise too thin or because he’s running out of new things to do with Madea, her character is feeling more and more like a caricature in a way that almost feels cruel after a while, particularly in a scene that is just one extended fat joke. Something in either the construction or the delivery of some of the Madea humor just feels off.
Fans of the franchise will no doubt find exactly what they’re looking for in Big Happy Family but it isn’t likely to bring anyone new to the table. C-
Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some mature thematic material. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family is an hour and 46 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.