No matter how many times Tyler Perry has tried to convince us that he’s done playing his most cherished creation—the gun-wielding, no-nonsense big momma Madea—you know you’ll see him rocking the glasses, gray wig, and floppy fat suit again. Even though she’s a loudmouthed, foulmouthed caricature, a pistol-packing mammy, Madea has become a national treasure, and Perry knows it. In our dismal, depressing times, her crazed wisdom is one of the few things that can unite Black & white audiences. (SNL’s best Black Jeopardy sketch memorably addressed this.)
Perry goes drag for the 12th time— and that’s not counting the stage shows, some TV appearances, and an animated film—for Netflix’s A Madea Homecoming, in which the titular great-grandmother rounds up a bunch of loved ones for another family-themed event. This time, it’s to celebrate the college graduation of her great-grandson, Tim (Brendan Black), who’s also the valedictorian. Some familiar faces from the MCU (Madea Cinematic Universe) show up for the festivities, including frisky Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis-Patton), loud-dressing family friend Leroy Brown (David Mann) and Madea’s ornery brother Joe (played, as always, by Perry).
In keeping with tradition, Homecoming introduces us to a brand-new batch of relatives, including Tim’s divorced mother, Laura (A Black Lady Sketch Show player Gabrielle Dennis), and her cop sister, Ellie (Candace Maxwell), who appear to be around only to argue with Joe about police-related matters. Since this is a Tyler Perry movie, the resident bald-headed brotha that everyone hates is Tim’s dad (Amani Atkinson), whom Tim invited even though the family despises him for doing Laura dirty. Of course, we need a light-skinned opposite, and that comes in the form of Tim’s supportive pal Davi (Isha Blaaker).
Davi also gets a surprise when his relatives—cousin Cathy (Jennifer Gibney) and grandma Agnes Brown (Brendan O’Carroll)—come over from Ireland to see him get his diploma. Brown, who’s appeared in several movies and TV shows in Ireland, is basically the Madea of the British Isles. So this transatlantic crossover of cross-dressing comedians is kind of historic!
In fitting Perry fashion, Homecoming mixes the farcical with the melodramatic. The first half has Perry and his cast fully engaging in silly situations (a couple of people make the mistake of eating “chocolate” from Madea’s purse) and trash-talking altercations with each other. But no matter how awkwardly paced (Perry still directs films like he’s back helming gospel plays onstage), these moments are easier to take than the kitchen-sink theatrics that go down in the second half. Never one to stay with the slapstick, Perry shoehorns in some soap opera twists, with the revelations of secrets much more ludicrous than any of the zany comic stuff at the beginning.
Although marginally more woke than other Madea installments (the fam has an unexpected response when one of them publicly comes out), Homecoming is just more of the same. The characters are one-note, and the actors portray them that way. Madea remains the center of attention. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the funniest moments all revolve around her—see, for example, the flashback of her going after a man-stealing bestie, or the end credits, where she does her own version of an uber-diva’s concert film. Yes, it’s still Madea’s world. And as long as Perry’s ready and willing to pop shots in the air while wearing a muumuu, we’ll all have to keep living in it.