Just to reassure you: Madea does not die in ‘A Madea Family Funeral’. That would be too much to bear. But Tyler Perry — the character’s creator and alter ego, and the writer, director and producer of this movie — has said that it will be her last film appearance. (She has been in 10 previous live-action features, starting with ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ in 2005.) We’ll see how that goes — nothing in this world is more revocable than a pop-culture retirement — but the moviegoing public must prepare to let go of one of its 21st-century touchstones.
Madea belongs to the streaming services and the DVD collectors now, and also to the graduate students. A scholarly Journal of Madea Studies could feast for decades on the interpretive bounty she leaves behind. Whatever your speciality — race, gender, sex, religion, class, fashion, family, food — the granny in the floral dress with the weaponised purse will give you a lot to work with.
What Perry lacks in filmmaking rigor — like its predecessors, ‘Family Funeral’ is a bit of a mess, formally and technically — he makes up for in generosity. The movie is the usual plateful of low humour and high melodrama, in no particular hurry to make its way through a busy plot.
This one involves the death of a briefly glimpsed patriarch named Anthony (Derek Morgan), who expires on the day of his wedding anniversary in the arms of a woman not his wife. Or to be precise, in (discreetly shown) bondage during a kinky session of hotel adultery. Coincidentally, Anthony’s older son, AJ (Courtney Burrell), happens to be in the adjoining hotel room with a woman named Gia (AeriEl Miranda) when his dad’s heart goes. To sketch in the family tree a little further: AJ is married to Carol (KJ Smith); Gia is engaged to AJ’s brother, Jessie (Rome Flynn); and Anthony’s companion, Renee (Quin Walters), is an old friend of the family.
The job of all of those people — and also Anthony’s widow, Vianne (Jen Harper); their daughter, Sylvia (Ciera Payton); and their son-in-law, Will (David Otunga) — is to look good in or half out of their clothes, to emote when called upon and to stand around while Madea and her crew (not all of whom are played by Perry) deliver their curses, blessings, insults and non sequiturs.
Those are abundant and frequently hilarious, even in what look like unpromising circumstances. Early on, before Anthony’s demise, an Escalade full of old-timers driven by Madea’s nephew, Brian (Perry), is pulled over by police. Madea, Brian and his father, Joe (Perry), argue about how to handle the situation, with Madea’s sidekicks Bam (Cassie Davis) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) piping up with their own dubious wisdom. The scene, which seems to last forever, generates comic tension both from a hint of serious danger and from the feeling that a boundary is being tested. (Perry also plays Uncle Heathrow, a double-amputee throat cancer survivor — in the funniest sense of those words.)
The point of Madea, of course, is that she observes no boundaries, even as she upholds traditional moral sensibilities. By the end, she has served as funeral director, minister and marriage counsellor, mocking the authority of such professions while also underlining their necessity. Her absolute silliness is the condition of her wisdom, and maybe vice versa. She helps the other family members heal and move on from their self-inflicted hurts, asking for nothing in return but attention. It’s a pretty good bargain, all in all.
A Madea Family Funeral is now showing across the UAE.