Megan Basham

Like many films that champion faith, family, and personal responsibility, Madea’s Family Reunion boasts some solid dialogue, hilarious interactions, and truly uplifting moments.

Too bad, like a lot of those same films, it hides its light under a bushel of undercooked characters and bad acting.

This is playwright Tyler Perry’s second shot at the big screen (his first was last year’s sleeper hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman), but this time around, his leading ladies are far more sad and fearful than angry.

Half-sisters Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) and Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) both suffer from the influence of a mother who could have served as the model for Cruella DeVille. Victoria (Lynne Whitfield) convinces Lisa to go through with her marriage to an abusive boyfriend, so that both she and her daughter can enjoy the benefit of his wealth. Victoria’s advice: “Stop doing whatever’s making him angry.”

But the pain she inflicts on her other child cuts even deeper. Negatively comparing Vanessa to her sister and belittling Vanessa’s romance with a talented, but poor, bus driver/artist are the least of the blows she deals to her eldest child. As details of Vanessa’s painful past come to light, Victoria moves from cartoony she-devil to criminally negligent monster. Were it not for the interference of aunt Madea, who is both literally and figuratively larger than life, neither young woman would stand a chance at lasting happiness. And interfere Madea does, with all the subtlety of a homemaking hippopotamus.

With the exception of the parts Perry plays, every member of the cast, including the men, could easily take top prize at a beauty pageant. Unfortunately, in an acting pageant, none would deserve even third runner-up, except, once again, for Perry himself who could certainly win some kind of best supporting award (though in which category, male or female, it’s hard to say).

The sisters convey their emotions with all the alternately wide-eyed/pained visages of a couple of freshman theater majors. As for the villains, their hissed threats, arched eyebrows and double entendres are so over-the-top they could make Days of Our Lives blush. Blair Underwood’s fiancée-beating investment banker strikes (pardon the pun) only one particularly tiresome note.

Yet, just as the film threatens to overwhelm us with corniness and predictability, in walks Mama Madea in all her politically-incorrect glory. Spanking children, praising Jesus, and admonishing her mixed-up nieces, she displays the kind of family graces so common to our culture, yet so rarely represented on film, audiences can’t help responding despite C-grade production values.

Megan Basham

Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All

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