When Tyler Perry's Diary Of A Mad Black Woman opened to more than $20 million in box-office receipts, it was not merely a movie to be considered, but a phenomenon to be grappled with. Just ask Roger Ebert, whose dismissive review provoked an avalanche of hate mail from Perry's enormous fan base, which he had spent years accumulating through his stage productions and DVDs. His name had barely been whispered in mainstream circles prior to Diary's success, which says a lot about how unresponsive Hollywood has been to the large numbers of black Christian viewers seeking family entertainment. And though Perry's films are hard to defend on aesthetic groundsthe crazy shifts in tone from operatic melodrama to broad comedy could cause seizuresit's equally hard to begrudge the underserved audiences who embrace them so passionately.
Essentially a smoother-running redux of Diary, Perry's new Madea's Family Reunion follows the same basic formula: The serious side concerns a sheepish young beauty (Rochelle Aytes) caught in a relationship with a wealthy, physically abusive businessman (Blair Underwood); the comic side follows the further hijinks of Madea, the sassy, straight-talking matriarch played by Perry in drag and a fat suit. The two sides eventually come together when Aytes flees to her aunt Madea's house for shelter, and the bad-ass earth-mother helps Aytes gain leverage over Underwood and her duplicitous mother (Lynn Whitfield). By way of contrast, Aytes' sister (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), a single mother with two kids, enters a relationship with a handsome, sensitive bus driver (Boris Kodjoe) who's so perfect that his farts probably smell like perfume.
The action eventually leads to a family reunion, where icons like Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson dispense wisdomthe latter actually takes the pulpit for a 10-minute monologue about the newer generation curbing their wretched ways and taking responsibility for themselves and their families. There are no hidden messages: Perry simply stops the movie cold and preaches directly to his audience. As a writer, he favors moral clarity over subtle shading and ambiguity, so there aren't any shades of gray between a man who does all the right things and a man who threatens to beat his girlfriend for yawning at dinner. Still, Madea's Family Reunion represents an advance on Diary, if only because it dials down Madea's shtick (she no longer waves a gun around) and irons out some of those awkward tonal transitions. The chance that Perry's followers will leave disappointed is approximately 0 percent.