Tyler Perry, like M. Night Shyamalan, is a triple threat; writer, director, and actor. However unlike Shyamalan, who appears cursed in his ability to repeat the success of his first blockbuster film, Perry is clearly blessed; each subsequent film he writes, directs and stars in is better received then the last, effectively broadening his appeal to a larger audience.
The Family That Preys, following in the tradition of Why Did I get Married and Daddy’s Little Girl, abandons Perry’s famous Madea, the iconic “grandmother” of Madea’s Family Reunion and Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Instead we are introduced to two matriarchs from different worlds, Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard) and Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) who share a longstanding friendship.
The film unfolds with Alice’s younger daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) marrying construction worker Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) at the estate of her mother’s lifelong friend. William Cartwright (Cole Hauser), Charlotte’s only child is at odds with his mother regarding the operation and control of the family construction business. He attends the wedding and hones in on the Cartwright family tradition of “preying on the weak”, setting his philandering sights on the newlywed daughter of his mother’s unlikely friend.
After Andrea is hired as an accountant for the Cartwright family business, Alice must struggle to keep the peace between Andrea and her older sister Pam (Taraji P. Henson).
Andrea proves to have no tolerance for Pam’s judgmental tendencies and even less tolerance for Chris’ trifling dreams of business ownership; a goal Andrea openly berates him about for as she loves to remind him, not only he is uneducated, but he is incapable of having a conversation with a “real” businessman without stuttering.
Meanwhile, despite concerns about leaving both her diner and her children unattended, Alice accepts Charlotte’s unexpected challenge to be spontaneous about her life and oins Charlotte on a cross-country excursion. The journey, reminiscent of that of Thelma & Louise without the drama, solidifies their bond. Enjoying days of reckless abandonment, Charlotte elects to return home after she shares a life altering confidence with Alice. Upon their arrival home the matriarchs are thrust to the forefront of their children’s lives; forced to address their transgressions and to restore order to anarchy.
In The Family That Preys, Perry not only manages to extract terrific performances from his ensemble cast, but himself steps out of comedic character and delivers a stellar supporting performance as Ben, a dedicated man and faithful husband to Pam. cademy award winner Bates and Academy award nominee Woodard, are predictably impressive; a little less predictable were the role reversals epitomized by Lathan and Robin Givens. A positive role model who garners success through intelligence, academic success and hard work is typical Lathan, while Givens is no stranger to the conniving female role. Nevertheless, their portrayal of antithesis characters was believable, a tribute to their versatility as dramatic actresses. Not to be overlooked is Henson, who last worked with Lathan and Woodard in 2006’s Something New. Against a veteran cast of female leads she managed to hold her own.
Effectively contributing to the sentiment of the film, are fleeting images of the US of A, including post hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Set against a nostalgic soundtrack, highlighted by Gladys Knight’s soulful rendition of Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance, Perry’s The Family That Preys tells a story of friendship, dreams, and betrayal that has universal appeal transcending all class and racial divides.