Madea's Big Happy Family: Film Review

Tyler Perry's signature character returns to kick more butt in this raucous comedy.

Isaiah Mustafa keeps his shirt on throughout Tyler Perry’s latest, about a cancer patient’s attempts to gather her feuding family

In this era of tough love, it's no wonder that audiences eat up Tyler Perry's Madea character. In the prolific multi-hyphenate filmmaker's latest opus featuring his signature figure, the tough old broad manages to set every dysfunctional character straight through sheer force of will and a mouth that just won't stop.

Madea's Big Happy Family, based on one of Perry's successful touring stage plays, is a return to the broad comedy that marked many of his early features. While it marks an artistic regression from his recent, more multi-dimensional efforts, particularly the dramatically ambitious For Colored Girls, there's little doubt that it will satisfy his target audience.

The story begins on a dramatic note, with matriarch Shirley (Loretta Devine) being informed of a dire cancer diagnosis. But that's immediately followed by a raucously funny scene featuring the familiar character Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) enjoying a toke in a hospital restroom.

That's emblematic of the film's rude, vulgar humor, which relies heavily on nasty insults. The one most frequently evoked is "ghetto," used as an epithet to describe any sort of low-class behavior.

The dying Shirley wishes to inform her grown children of her condition at a group dinner, but the relentless quarrelling among the siblings and their assorted spouses and lovers keeps getting in the way.

Son Byron (Shad "Bow Wow" Moss), recently released from jail, is considering a return to drug dealing to satisfy his new girlfriend's (Lauren London) demand to be "kept" and to support the baby he had with his endlessly demanding ex (Teyana Taylor).

Daughter Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid) endlessly harangues her henpecked husband (Rodney Perry) and is unable to discipline her two bratty sons. And upscale real-estate broker Kimberly (Shannon Kane) continually rails against her loving husband (played by Old Spice pitchman Isaiah Mustafa who, much to the probable disappoint of his female fans, keeps his shirt on throughout.)

Indeed, with the exception of the devoutly religious Shirley and, of course, Madea, nearly all of the female characters on display are depicted as ungrateful harridans who constantly abuse the men in their lives. That, combined with the filmmaker's relish for dressing in drag, would seem to indicate some personal issues that need to be worked out.

It all leads to a dramatic revelation of a long-buried family secret, with several of the characters airing their dirty laundry on, where else, The Maury Povich Show. And, as is common in Perry's films, there's a climactic church service featuring a stirring gospel number.

The film is best appreciated as a showcase for the hugely popular titular character, with Perry tearing into the role with hugely entertaining comic gusto. From driving a car through the window of a fast-food restaurant after being denied service to slapping an insolent adolescent boy silly, the oversized, take-no-prisoners grandma's actions were met with roaring approval by the audience.

Opened Apr. 22 (Lionsgate)
Production: Lionsgate, Tyler Perry Studios
Cast: Loretta Devine, Shad "Bow Wow" Moss, David Mann, Cassi Davis, Tamela Mann, Lauren London, Isaiah Mustafa, Rodney Perry, Shannon Kane, Teyana Taylor, Natalie Desselle Reid, Tyler Perry
Director/producer/screenwriter: Tyler Perry
Executive producers: Ozzie Areu, Joseph P. Genier, Michael Paseornek
Director of photography: Toyomichi Kurita
Production designer: Ina Mayhew
Editor: Maysie Hoy
Costume designer: Keith G. Lewis
Music: Aaron Zigman
Rated PG-13, 106 mins.