The Tyler Perry brandwagon began when the down-on-his-luck multi-hyphenate sat down and started churning out plays for urban theatres that spoke to churchgoing folks and those who would recognize the broad, sketchy stereotypes prancing around onstage because they looked and sounded like friends and family from around the way. Perry’s built-in audience transitioned into the multiplex with him when Lionsgate gambled on the niche and has made matriarch Madea (Perry) the biggest mammy of all the big drag mommas.
Here, she’s trying to unite the sordid and unruly clan of Shirley (Loretta Devine), her niece who is fighting a losing battle against cancer.
Shirley prays for God to make things right, while Madea comes across like God’s crazy and vengeful right hand. Madea’s Big Happy Family brings Devine further into the Perry troupe after her dazzling turn in For Colored Girls (one of the few gems in Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s classic choreopoem). Unfortunately, she’s not able to elevate this material beyond its pedestrian riffs on black life.
Perry loves his soapy melodrama as much as his big boobs and housecoats, and for all the time I spent attempting to praise the incremental development he made as he becomes more familiar with staging stories for the screen, it’s now obvious that Perry has not only reached his plateau, but is on the downward slope despite the fact that he continues to keep his loyal family niche quite happy. Grade: D