By: Hawk Ripjaw (Six Pack) –
A Madea Family Funeral is, allegedly, the final film to feature Tyler Perry’s iconic character. After watching A Madea Family Funeral, that statement feels almost like a threat. Like the villain of a 90s cartoon series, upon defeat, promising he shall return.
Sylvia (Ciera Payton), Jessie (Rome Flynn), and AJ (Courtney Currell) are preparing a massive anniversary party for their parents, Anthony (Derek Morgan) and Vianne (Jen Harper), which means it’s time for Madea (Tyler Perry), Brian (Tyler Perry), Joe (Tyler Perry), Bam (Cassi Davis), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) to pile in a car and head across the country.
I’m not even sure how to approach the ridiculously tangled web of deception that this movie weaves. It’s not even the compelling, intricate type of deception either. It’s a whole bunch of people fucking each other and I’m trying like hell to remember what their names were after four hours of sleep. Let’s go.
So, Gia (Aeriel Miranda) is engaged to Jessie. AJ is married to Carol (Kj Smith). But AJ is cheating on Carol with Gia, which means Gia is cheating on Jessie with AJ, and Anthony is cheating on Vianne with family friend Renee (Quin Walters). It just so happens that both trysts occur in adjacent hotel rooms, in the very same hotel where Madea & Co are lodging. Everyone walks in on what sounds like a very violent BDSM session between Anthony and Renee ending with Anthony dead in the bed and still pitching a bigger tent than you’ll ever see in an REI display. Everyone knows that AJ was there when his dad died, but if he reveals the details, Renee will spill the beans on him and Gia. The anniversary celebration has turned into funeral planning, and all of these emotional people and their secrets are piled into the same house with a finite boiling point. Like a pressure cooker about to go off. Like my blood pressure as I have to watch nearly two hours of Tyler Perry screaming at himself in different costumes.
If you put on a blindfold and fire a shotgun at a moving object from some distance away, there’s still a chance you might at least hit something, and the same holds true for some of the dialogue in A Madea Family Funeral. Every once in a while, there is an amusing line of dialogue and it’s almost always from either Madea or Joe. Madea, in amusing non-sequitur, will attempt to impart advice via Scripture but will completely misquote the verse, mangling it wildly out of context. Joe, for his part, barely has a single line that doesn’t have some passing reference to hookers or weed, and he too occasionally mumbles something so bizarrely random that it manages to elicit a decent chuckle.
The series’ increasing reliance on a running gag that Joe knows that Madea is really just a man in drag continues to be surprisingly amusing, and is bolstered by Madea’s lines occasionally slipping into Perry’s natural baritone. Not a single other character ever references or even takes notice of this.
Unfortunately, for a film that is nearly two hours long, a small handful of laughs isn’t enough. The rest of the movie deals heavily in lowbrow, generally unpleasant humor. Perhaps the apex of this is a truly bizarre sequence in which Brian (Perry’s straight, playing-himself character) and Madea & Co. are stopped by a white police officer. This officer shouts at and threatens the group in what appears to be a psychotic meltdown, neck muscles clenched. This appears to be making some sort of statement about white police officers being prejudiced against African Americans, but the scene resolves when the officer runs Brian’s license and politely and calmly sends him on his way. This is never revisited. Like a lot of Madea’s adventures, this is one of many strange ideas and kernels that are left unexplored. Was it an idea that Perry wasn’t sure how to finish but wanted to keep the character banter? Was something removed in post-production? Was it simply padding? Any of those are possible given the lazy structure of these movies.
2017’s Boo 2! was just about the apex of how Madea’s original rough-yet-wholesome brand of humor has evolved into anarchic, mean-spirited humor that works completely at odds with the values of the films. To be fair, this, filmed just before Boo 2!, similarly goes whole-hog in making nearly every character being a shithead to everyone else. That can honestly be great comedy, but the foundations of Madea and the melodrama trappings of Perry’s style don’t gel well with mean-spirited humor, and it comes across as trying too hard to be a part of the current times while keeping one foot in Perry’s well-worn genre conventions. With this being a Tyler Perry melodrama, at some point characters are going to have to confront each other and themselves in order to learn something.
There is a tonal dissonance to Funeral so pervasive that it almost feels like two separate edits of the film spliced together. This becomes most evident at an emotional moment where the family learns that Anthony did not survive his trip to the ICU. The entire family breaks down in tears, but the scene just can’t end before Madea and her friends throw out just a couple more jokes. That’s right—the death of the patriarch and the inciting incident in the plot, featuring the entire family breaking down in tears- is followed by a punchline and a goofy musical sting.
From there, the movie is a parade of insults, physical gags, and racial humor, with varying degrees of success generally skewing towards the lower end of the scale. Even the funeral sequence itself is an extended, ironically laborious send-up of the apparent trend of lengthy African-American funeral services. It’s very strange that a series as wacky and silly as this chose heavy melodrama and a funeral as its narrative framework, and instead of striking a balance between the tones it mostly just clumsily shifts between them.
I’ve had relationships that didn’t last as long as some of the extended gags in this movie. I’m not talking running jokes that continue throughout the movie to be revisited for bigger gains on the punchline (although there are some of those). I am talking about the movie’s repeated insistence of revisiting a kernel of a joke and having Madea and her friends absolutely dogpile on it, exchanging punchlines ad nauseam for minutes on end. It’s like those improv-heavy early 2000s comedies where actors would just burn through yards of film experimenting with dumb lines, with the best one making it into the film and the rest of them ending up in the special features on the DVD. Funeral seems to throw every last one into the movie and has the characters yelling over each other until the scene just decides to end. Again, there are ways for this sort of humor to work, but with none of these loud, irritating characters actually having character or motivation, it’s just noise with no purpose.
The side characters, for the most part, fare worse. They’re all very thinly drawn, set up immediately for the eventual conflict with no nuance. AJ is probably the worst offender; he verbally abuses his wife, whines that Gia won’t bang him while her fiancee is in the house, and gets suspiciously defensive whenever he’s confronted about any of it. He and every other character embody just about one and only one personality trait. They’re swapped in and out of scenes as needed, completely generic except for the “who’s sleeping with whom” qualifier, and functioning only as a means to get to the big reveal. There are no winners or losers, no reason to want any of these people to be happy, and no reason to want to watch the melodrama play out. If Perry nailed one thing, it’s the feeling of being literally locked in a house with a bunch of awful people.
Perry deserves credit for his extremely quick and economical approach to filmmaking—to an extent. Most of the Madea movies are said to be shot in around a week, which is generally impressive, but it also shows. Funeral is confusingly blocked and framed; characters often crowd the foreground and move & react as if receiving stage directions from off-screen and waiting for others to say their lines. It’s also extremely bright, awash in soundstage lighting that gives the thing an unnaturally cheap look like those 90s sitcoms shot in front of a studio audience. This is just a visually ugly film.
It’s not the worst Madea movie, and it’s “better” than both Boo 2! and Perry’s non-Madea Acrimony from last year. But qualitatively ordering the filmography of latter-day Tyler Perry is not unlike listing the symptoms of a viral infection from most to least fun. While not without its occasional chuckles, A Madea Family Funeral is as lazy, sloppy and frustrating as any of the Madea movies.
But it’s made $60 million so far against a budget of $20 million or less in just its first couple of weeks. So is Tyler Perry really who we should be casting the blame on?
A Madea Family Funeral (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Do a Shot: whenever Madea misquotes a Bible verse
Take a Drink: every time someone gets slapped
Take a Drink: every time Anthony’s *ahem* “rigor mortis” interrupts something
Take a Drink: whenever a character behaves exactly as they would be expected to