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March 2005

Madea's Family Reunion

By Kam Williams

Madea's Family Reunion


Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Tyler Perry
Producers: Reuben Cannon, Mike Upton
Co-Producer: Roger M. Bobb
Screenwriter: Tyler Perry
Cast: Tangi Miller, Blair Underwood, Boris Kodjoe, Henry Simmons, Lynn Whitfield, Jenifer Lewis, Keke Palmer, Rochelle Aytes, China Anderson, Maya Angelou Cicely Tyson and Tyler Perry
Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, matures themes, domestic violence and drug references.
Running time: 107 minutes





Tyler Perry Back in Drag as Sassy Senior Citizen

When we last encountered Mabel "Madea" Simmons, the revenge-minded sister was pistol-whipping her granddaughter's philandering husband in the Diary of a Mad Black Woman. This time out, the sassy senior citizen has toned-down her act to offset her trademark intensity with equal measures of inspirational advice.

As a result, Madea's Family Reunion is a far better film than the first in that it not only dishes out endless belly laughs, but also offers food for thought, opportunities for introspection and several uplifting messages. Perhaps just as importantly, the picture offers one of those rare cinematic experiences where we get to see a recognizable African-American community grappling with an array of real-life issues, as opposed to the typical urban-oriented comedy's superficial send-up of offensive, jive stereotypes interested in nothing deeper than insulting some artificial aspect of each other's supposed social status.

Here, Madea and Uncle Joe, both played by writer/director Tyler Perry, are the only characters allowed to indulge themselves in the sort of over-the-top nonsense which marked the original. Meanwhile, the rest of their relatives find themselves enmeshed in messy melodramas.

Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) is about to marry Carlos (Blair Underwood), a wealthy banker, but she's thinking of calling off the wedding because he's beaten her every day since they got engaged. Her half-sister, Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) is a struggling single-mom who has remained celibate since being abandoned after her second child was born. Their mother (Lynn Whitfield) is a conniving shrew who favors one daughter over the other and who cares more about money than the spiritual realm.

Lucky for skeptical Vanessa, her bus driver (Boris Kodjoe) is handsome, sensitive, available and patient, and just happens to have a crush on her. What's more, this knight in shining armor is a single-dad and shares her interest in the arts. As you might imagine, subplots abound in this multi-tentacled soap opera.

But rather than spoil the fun, suffice to say that while building up to an eventful climax courtesy of the Simmons clan reunion, this moving morality play seemingly bites off more than it can chew, yet convincingly addresses a myriad of relevant themes, including incest, faith, materialism, bullying, trust and domestic violence, all betwixt and between Madea and Joe's irreverent outbursts.

The film peaks with platitude-filled soliloquies delivered by Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou at the big reunion which was shot on the site of an actual slave plantation now owned by Tyler Perry. The sobering significance of this chosen locale is not likely to be lost on those seriously contemplating the source of all the dysfunction just witnessed on the screen. The sweeping cinematography of the historic setting underscores the points made by the revered family matriarchs as they share their sage insights and tie-up all the loose-ends.

A Tyler Perry tour de force!

Excellent (4 stars)