Sometimes it's not good to cross genres too far.
Genres, like many things in life, work well when slightly blended together. Take darkly comic thrillers or lighthearted romantic comedies – they’re both in the same general emotional ballpark. On the opposite end of the spectrum might be, say, making a movie that’s equal parts comedy-free romance, transvestite and fart comedy, and domestic violence drama.
And that mangled combination of genres is precisely what Madea’s Family Reunion is.
The movie opens to a soft-lensed opulent dream: a beautiful woman (Rochelle Aytes) awakens to a trail of roses leads to a romantic morning bath (complete with a trio of musicians) and a seemingly adoring fiancé (Blair Underwood). Her sisters arrive and steal her away to the spa for a morning of fun and catching up. At the spa, an artist/bus driver (Boris Kodjoe) walks up and lays amazingly confident game on another sister (Keke Palmer). The trio heads back to the beautiful high-rise apartment where they soon are called on by a male stripper… and then the fiancé walks in. The girls rush out in embarrassment, and the movie turns on its heel when the picture perfect couple starts hitting each other. Article continues below
From this the film leaps over to Medea (Tyler Perry), the main character of last year’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, who finds herself in court for violating house arrest and becomes the foster mother of a wayward Atlanta teen, Nima (China Anderson). Then it’s on to Medea’s farting brother (also Tyler Perry), some mother-daughter bonding, then back over to the budding romance. And then it’s back to Mommie Dearest demanding her daughter not give up the beautiful banker, despite the bruises.
Medea’s Family Reunion goes hot and cold like a third-world shower. It can’t focus on any one of the single good dramatic subjects for too long, and jumps back to Medea and her brother’s farts as a cheap safety mechanism. Putting a woman being slapped around next to a man talking about why he doesn't bother to keep gas in past age 70 is about in the same comedic league as describing in detail how you’re going to do yourself in and then telling knock-knock jokes. It just doesn’t work.
The really sad thing is that while Medea’s Family Reunion can’t graduate beyond the third grade in laughs, it actually does an amazingly good job at pulling heartstrings. The romance, the evil mother, and the abusive fiancé coalesce into a solid story about standing up for yourself that actually manages to not come across too over the top. The characters are developed, genuine, and even believable. The romance ekes smiles out of the most cynical mouth with regularity and the drama keeps your interest, despite being a road traveled down so often that a couple of cable TV networks basically live off of it. It even has a solid and strong message about the role of responsible families in generations of black Americans to come.
But it just can’t stop itself from stopping to fart, or make a joke about how Madea’s too fat, or watch Madea wail on wayward youths.
The only other obstacles to Madea’s Family Reunion being a pretty decent movie are the amazingly overplayed performances by Blair Underwood and Lynn Whitfield. Underwood’s abusive fiancé has one face -- the "sweet boy about to snap" look. He gets bad lines and comes out as one of the most wooden and poorly defined characters of the movie. Whitfield’s Mommie Dearest gets a little bit more definition, but still goes six steps too far. Both of the villains are so far over the top they should be in the summer Olympics.
All in all Madea’s Family Reunion sets itself up well, and holds a lot of promise, but never quite delivers enough. But it’s definitely got the potential. And with Lions Gate’s buy of another five Madea movies from Tyler Perry, you might actually see some great things… if the title character got more toned down in the series.