The makers of Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son are weirdly proud of themselves

The makers of Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son are weirdly proud of themselves

Crimes

  • Wringing a decade-spanning trilogy out of a lowbrow comedy about an FBI agent (Martin Lawrence) forced to go undercover as an obese Southern grandmother
  • Finding an insultingly convoluted reason to put Lawrence’s now-college-age son (Brandon T. Jackson) in drag and a fat suit by having him join his dad on another secret cross-dressing mission in an Atlanta girls’ school
  • Closing with a music video featuring Lawrence rapping in character as Big Momma

Defenders: Director John Whitesell, producer David T. Friendly (both of whom previously defended their labors in the commentary for Big Momma’s House 2), actresses Portia Doubleday and Jessica Lucas, and actor Brandon T. Jackson 

Tone of commentary: Details-oriented to an almost perverse degree. Jackson, who sounds throughout like he just woke up from a nap and is barely awake, intermittently attempts to make jokes, but his halfhearted attempts at levity are defeated by the director and producer’s need to let the world know where scenes were shot, when they were shot, how many takes were required, what was ad-libbed, and other matters of interest only to the cast, the crew, and the most pathological Big Momma’s House diehards. It’s as if the director and producer are lecturers at the world’s worst long-distance film school for an audience just dying to know how they can make cross-dressing comedies in Atlanta during the summer.  

The seriousness with which the filmmakers take the mythology of the Big Momma’s House trilogy is far funnier than anything in the film. They speak reverently about Lawrence’s iconic red garment from all three films as the “hero dress,” and delineate that in order to meet the high standards set by previous installments in the Big Momma’s House trilogy there must be at least four or five physical-comedy-intensive setpieces. 

If someone is looking to stage a tour of filming locations for the Big Momma’s House trilogy, this audio commentary gives them an awful lot of background information to draw from. 

What went wrong: The filmmakers originally came away with what they refer to as a “tight cut” of the film that lasted an astonishing two hours and 27 minutes. That was prohibitively long even for the third entry in a trilogy (think of it as the cross-dressing Return Of The King) so the filmmakers were, to use their own slightly dramatic turn of phrase, forced to “murder our darlings,” most notably in the form of an extended sequence in which Jackson’s cross-dressing teenager gets to hang out with the film’s clique of sexy girls and experience the joys of doing sexy-girl stuff himself while make-pretending to be a girl.

Other sequences were extensively trimmed, and sequences for which actors trained extensively barely made it into the film, particularly big song-and-dance numbers. The filmmakers are overjoyed by how the movie plays in its final form—who wouldn’t be, aside from the critics who trashed it and the audiences who ignored it?—but nevertheless clearly mourn the sacrifices they had to make and the nearly 147-minute, setpiece-stuffed, song-and-dance-crazed masterpiece that might have been. 

Whitesell and Friendly have nothing but praise for their movie’s makeup and costume design, but it was difficult for Jackson not to break character and acknowledge all the extras gawking at him in his unconvincing fat suit during the scene that introduces his cross-dressing alter ego at the mall. It was similarly challenging for Doubleday to control her laughter when pitted opposite Lawrence.

Comments on the cast: Jackson insisted that his aspiring-rapper character wear a backpack onstage to show he was a non-commercial “backpack” rapper, not a pop or gangsta rapper. The distinction seems to have been lost on the filmmakers, whose obliviousness about the intricacies of hip-hop are apparent when Jackson is introduced rapping, and Whitesell offers a gee-whiz-inflected, “Here we go! Rap time!”

The filmmakers overflow with praise for all their brilliant actors. Lawrence is singled out for his ad-libbing gifts (a corny variation on the old joke about a family so poor it had to go to KFC and lick patrons’ fingers is posited as an example of his improvisatory genius), while Whitesell found Doubleday—who is so meek on the commentary, it’s easy to imagine her shyly raising her hand and inquiring if she might be allowed to speak—so convincing as a mean girl that he was shocked to discover she was actually a nice young woman, not a fictional character.

The cast apparently approached their roles with a seriousness that was unnecessary at best and insane at worst, like when Lucas made sure her fingering was right while pretending to play piano in a scene where the placement of her hands never comes into play. Like the filmmakers, she took her role far too seriously, albeit not in a way that makes the film any less terrible.

Inevitable dash of pretension: The filmmakers pat themselves on the back for making a film that’s not merely hilarious, it’s also emotionally resonant and convincing in its depiction of intergenerational conflict.  

Commentary in a nutshell: On the film’s setting: “It is interesting to note that Atlanta had some really strong incentive programs.” Wow, that is interesting! Multiply that observation by a thousand, and that is essentially this commentary.

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