Madea’s Big Happy Family (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Shirley (Loretta Devine) is informed by her doctor that her cancer has returned. Despite her physician’s suggested course of action, Shirley claims that she is too tired to deal with another round of treatments and so she is going to let nature take its course. With the help of Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), Shirley’s sister, the entire family is invited for dinner so the news can be shared. However, Shirley’s three children, Tammy (Natalie Desselle), Kimberly (Shannon Kane), and Byron (Bow Wow), cannot help but drag their problems to their sick mother’s home.
Written and directed by Tyler Perry, “Madea’s Big Happy Family” offers moments of extreme hilarity only to be watered down by unfunny extended jokes that come right after. For instance, when Madea (Tyler Perry) triies to order some fast food at a drive-thru only to be greeted by an astonishingly rude crew member who claims they have none of items that Madea wants, it is very funny. The rapid-fire dialogue and the attitude that accompanies the script reach a synergy. But when Madea plows her car into the burger place which leaves half the place in ruins, while extreme and initially shocking, it is no longer amusing because it had gotten to the point where it is trying too hard to be funny. Receiving rude service can happen to anyone; it is relatable and that is the reason why the setup works. But seeing someone purposefully driving her car into a public place where people can get hurt not only happens once in a blue moon, it is criminal.
Tammy, Kimberly, and Byron’s issues are handled quite well in the first half. Tammy and Kimberly treat their husbands with utter disrespect. Their interactions are ugly to watch, but there is honesty and genuine pain underneath their behavior. Many of us have seen married couples who treat each other that way while out in public and even in private family gatherings. One cannot help but wonder what is going on in their homes.
Kimberly is too strict with her child because she fears that her child may end up like Tammy’s. Clearly, she has superiority issues. Meanwhile, Tammy allows her spoiled children to call her names. Her brats claim she looks like a maid, to say the least, and each time she fails do anything about it. If I disrespected my mother like that, she would have slapped me across the face with flip-flops and dragged me across the floor to be shown the door.
Lastly, Byron, an eighteen-year-old father, is constantly urged by his girlfriend (Lauren London) to sell drugs so she can have more money to spend. At this point we must wonder why half the females in the picture are portrayed as harpies.
The film showcases plenty of drama that range from harmless to mildly involving, but most frustrating is that it rarely focuses on Shirley’s illness. Once Madea is in front of the camera, it is a hurricane of jokes and sassiness. I wished Perry has decided to step back and assess, all jokes aside, why the family is on the verge of collapse. Sometimes being loud and in-your-face is used as a mask to hide something deeper. But the writer-director never allows his material to get to that point. In the end, it is simply a parade of one-dimensional characters.