Madea’s Family Reunion, Tyler Perry’s second feature film and his big screen-directing debut, is a much more somber and subdued movie than most of Perry’s usual melodramedies. Even Madea, Perry’s signature role as a giant grandmother with a smart mouth and a quick temper, seems to be on Prozac for the film — dialing down her often annoying antics and taking a pronounced back seat to the film’s parallel love stories featuring two sisters in drastically different relationships.
Rochelle Aytes stars as Lisa Breaux, a beautiful young woman who seems to be in a magical relationship with Carlos (Blair Underwood), a financially successful investment banker. Lisa and Carlos are engaged to be married and everything looks rosy, except for the small detail Lisa keeps hidden from her family: Carlos beats her regularly.
As per usual in Tyler Perry movies, Madea’s Family Reunion features villains that rival Disney cartoons in their antagonists’ outlandish despicableness. A quiet yet dominating brute, Carlos is every Lifetime Original Movie villain wrapped in a suave shell with a thick coating of charm ready at the moment’s notice.
Pushing Lisa into the wedding despite the young woman’s reluctance is her mother, Victoria. Played by Lynn Whitfield, Victoria is an even more over the top villain — with a long history of emotionally manipulating Lisa and her sister Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson).
Vanessa is a single mother of two who has been living with Madea. Untrusting of men since a traumatic childhood incident brought on by her mother’s cruelty, Vanessa slowly begins to have her emotional barriers chipped away at once she meets Frankie, a sensitive painter/bus driver played by Boris Kodjoe.
Between Vanessa and Lisa’s stories, Tyler Perry has enough emotional swamp to wade through for the film’s nearly two hour running time. But, because Tyler Perry seems to just not know when to say no, he throws on a whole heaping of extra subplots that start with a bang before whimpering into the ether — forgotten about by film’s end.
One sub-plot, the informal adoption of a young street-smart hooligan by Madea, seems designed purely to give the character something to do during the film. The sub-plot speaks to one of the micro-themes that Perry has running through the film (the importance of family and a loved one’s support), but Perry has overstocked his film with similar micro-themes to the point where none of the movie’s messages have the impact or resonance of a single unifying theme.
The movie flails all over the place, jumping between the sisters’ emotional drama, Madea’s storyline and two family gatherings that take place during the film’s final hour. The gatherings, while impressive in their visual aesthetic and design, are overstuffed like a chicken cordon bleu of morality. Despite stunt casting of Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson, the film’s lack of real, honest emotion and overabundance of arsenal can-sprayed cheese doubling as pathos just reaffirms the conception that Perry’s films are nothing more than heat-targeted missiles programmed to preach a smattering of ineffective moral platitudes to a choir that’s already singing them. The most criminal aspect, though, is that the Christian values that Perry’s films expound could have a much more effective and profound medium that Perry allows them.
Madea’s Family Reunion has a lot to say and parts of the movie really seems to speak from Perry’s soul but, despite the emotional resonance the script aims for, the film just falls flat — hinting, perhaps, that after so many similarly-plotted plays and scripts all delivering variations of the same message, Perry’s soul is a well that’s running a bit dry.
Madea Goes to Jail is presented in 1080p high definition in a 1.85.1 widescreen ratio. The film looks good considering it’s low budget and lack of a high definition remastering. Colors are bright and vivid — specially during the many scenes Perry overuses a unified color palette to drive a scene’s emotional message into the ground.
A 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack nicely captures the movie’s smooth jazz soundtrack and keeps the film’s dialogue crisp and clear. There’s nothing to complain about with the movie’s high definition transfer.
Commentary Track — A feature length audio track from Tyler Perry is available to accompany the film.
Madea Mania — A seven minute look at Perry’s signature character.
From Stage to Screen — A five minute featurette on the film’s adaptation from Perry’s original stage play.
Transforming Tyler — A three minute look at Perry’s multiple make-up transformations for the three characters he plays throughout the film.
Deleted Scenes — A short collection of rightfully exorcised scenes.
More Deleted Scenes — Another collection of even more scenes and outtakes.
The Making of Madea’s Family Reunion — A 22-minute mini-documentary offering behind-the-scenes footage from the film’s production.
Making the Music — A five minute look at the film’s music, which was co-written by Perry.
Gaither Plantation — A four minute featurette on the film’s plantation set, which served as the backdrop to the titular family reunion.
Marriage Madea Style — A seven minute look at the production design for the film’s climatic wedding. The very definition of opulence, the wedding actually featured live people floating from the rafters dressed as angels.
The title of Madea’s Family Reunion does not refer to the film’s actual family reunion. Those looking for scenes of potato sack races and games of capture the flag are in for disappointment. Instead, the title refers to the reunion of a mother and her daughters who have been torn apart by manipulation and deceit.
Tyler Perry hits the audience a bit over the head with his message and the effect is blunt. Despite this fact, Perry’s movie will surely endear itself to the audience Perry designed it for and this is no real surprise. The movie is not a gateway drug for non-Tyler Perry fans to work their way into his filmography. Trite, emotionally hollow and overwrought in its forced morality, the movie just does not work for general audiences. For Perry’s niche audience, though, this high definition transfer is a great addition to their sure-to-be dramatically homogeneous DVD collection.
Lions Gate presents Madea’s Family Reunion. Directed by: Tyler Perry. Starring: Tyler Perry, Blair Underwood, Lynn Whitfield, Borris Kodjoe, Henry Simmons, Lisa Arrindell Anderson and Maya Angelou. Written by: Tyler Perry. Running time: 110 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on Blu-ray: November 23, 2010.