A Madea Family Funeral is typical of Tyler Perry’s Madea series: excruciating and baffling with occasional flecks of bemusement at how misguided it is; garishly lit and cheap-looking, like it was shot on a sitcom soundstage (which it was); woefully overlong and ham-fistedly plotted because writer-director-producer Perry keeps hitting pay dirt with these things and has no incentive to improve.
The structure is a fascinating mess. Sassy grandma Madea, her straight-man nephew Brian, and her raunchy brothers Joe and Heathrow — all played by Perry — are irrelevant to the main action. Those characters, plus Madea’s friends Miss Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), could be removed from the screenplay without having to alter the plot. They’re here solely to comment on the main action. This would be a great opportunity for humor if Tyler Perry were a funny writer.
The actual story, a dull melodrama, concerns a branch of the family to which, if I caught the details correctly, Heathrow is the grandfather. (Heathrow is a new Perry character, a legless war veteran cancer survivor who can only speak through one of those electronic voice boxes.) Several interchangeable siblings and their significant others are gathered to celebrate their parents’ anniversary. Pretty-faced Jessie (Rome Flynn), whom the others gently tease about being secretly gay (THIS IS DANGEROUS TERRITORY FOR TYLER PERRY TO TREAD ON, I’M JUST SAYING), is unaware that his fiancee, Gia (Aeriel Miranda), is sleeping with his brother, A.J. (Courtney Burrell). We learn of this fact when Gia and A.J. happen to shack up in the hotel room adjacent to where A.J.’s father is cheating with family friend Renee (Quin Walters), during which he (the father) dies. This is also the hotel where out-of-towners Madea and company are staying, because Tyler Perry movies are usually centered on lazy coincidences.
So A.J. and Gia know A.J.’s dad was a philanderer, but they can’t say how they know without revealing their own affair. A.J. handles the situation by acting like a jerk to everyone, including his own wife, Carol (Kj Smith), and using the fact that his dad just died as his excuse, all while STILL trying to hook up with Gia, who is sharing a bedroom with her fiancé Jessie in the same house.
There’s also a sister and her husband, but who cares?
All the secrets come out eventually. Most of the plot elements, which would be alarming and traumatic if played seriously, are treated as farce, but not the funny kind of farce (though this will be news to Perry, who believes he is hilarious). The widow, Vianne (Jen Harper), whose husband died on their anniversary, gets over it VERY quickly, hooking up on the night of the funeral with a man played by Mike Tyson.
The film’s dialogue breaks down roughly into the following categories:
– People talking about how other characters smell: 5%
– Madea talking about what “black people” do, particularly the tradition of waiting several days, even weeks, after a person’s death before holding the funeral: 15%
– Miss Hattie (an embarrassingly amateurish character straight out of a college improv show) or Aunt Jam almost revealing something about one of the affairs, only to be violently shushed by Madea: 15%
– References to the deceased dying with an erection that persists up through the funeral: 10%
– Madea, Joe, or Heathrow rambling semi-coherently about how things used to be, like they’re a common president of the United States or something: 30%
– Banal conversations that sound like they’re being made up impromptu by actors who didn’t know they’d be asked to improvise today: 25%
I kept wanting to take a red pen to the screenplay and cross out the lines — sometimes entire scenes — that didn’t need to be there. That would include everything with the Perry characters, particularly an interminable sequence where they’re pulled over by a white police officer and hilarity fails to ensue, but also several scenes involving the characters the story is actually about. The result still would have been bad, but at least it would have been shorter.