This is what I was waiting for. Having seen a number of Tyler Perry films that were adapted from his stage plays, I wanted to see his non-cinematic works, to see how well the characters worked outside of the boundaries set by film narratives. I can't say that 'Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play' was probably the best choice to introduce me to his stage works, though, as much as I wanted to enjoy what was unfolding in front of me. It wasn't the run time (a whopping two and a half hours), as I'm used to the two hours that almost all of his films run. It wasn't the cast, as they were generally likable or despicable...whatever the role called for. It also wasn't the way music was shoehorned into the production, as even the clunky transitions weren't the low point.
It most certainly wasn't Madea him/herself that turned me off from 'Big Happy Family', either, as I found myself truly enjoying Perry's work, even as he single-handedly took over the entire show at one point and refused to let go. Heck, Perry's Madea was the high point of this production. I simply could not truly say that this play was anything beyond interesting for one reason: it absolutely falls apart at the end, and becomes the singing equivalent of 'Step Up' or 'Stomp the Yard,' and that is most definitely not a compliment.
The story of this play sounds more interesting and coherent than it is. Shirley (Chandra Currelley) doesn't have long to live, with cancer leaving her with only weeks to get her affairs in order. She wants her doctor (Omarr Dixon) to be there when she breaks the news to her family, so it's going to be one great big get together! Alongside the crude Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and Madea (Perry), there's Shirley's three daughters: Joyce (Cheryl Pepsii Riley), Tammy (Crissy Collins), and Kimberly (Tamar Davis), their husbands (Rico Ball, Danny Clay), klepto Uncle Monroe (Palmer Williams, Jr.), as well as youngsters Byron (Jeffery Lewis) and Donnie (Zuri Criag). With each and every family member bringing their varied dramas to the mix, this is one squabbling, untrusting powder keg of a household, one that may not even give Shirley the chance to let everyone know her secret.
Created, produced, written, and directed by (as well as starring) Perry, 'Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play' is Perry's ode to his recently deceased mother, basing the Shirley character on her, and it becomes fairly obvious that Shirley was the glue holding the film together as soon as she's removed from the equation. Simply put, there stops being a play as soon as she passes on. That's no spoiler, as the opening moments of the show let us know she doesn't have long to live, and is trying to get the family together one last time.
No amount of acting chops on display from the cast can make up for the fact that the show spends a lot of time going nowhere fast. The play is stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels, trying to get out of the hole it digs for itself the longer it goes on, and only ends up flinging mud and crap all over everything. It's a damn shame, also, as the best scene in the entire show is quite literally an early climax. As Madea goes one by one chastising the family for their selfish, foolish ways and immature behavior, we get some great comedy and one liners, as well as a ton of modern wisdom not often dispensed, let alone heeded, as it seems Perry is talking to society as a whole about its shortcomings and failures, how they act like Urkel, falling and not being able to get themselves back up. This goes on for a good ten, fifteen minutes, and it's great. The wall is broken, the audience is spoken to directly, Perry admits he's going off-script, knowing this is the home video recording, it's really quite interesting. Then...there's nothing left, and there's about an hour left on the runtime.
So what fills the final 40 percent of the show? Absolutely nothing. Eventually, the majority (but not all) of the characters and their arcs get closure, of sorts, but that's only after a thirty plus minute musical montage. A montage that doesn't make any sense, where characters break character, trying to speak to a modern generation with songs from the past. While the performances are quite sound, this is about as amateur a move as can be done. The entire story is thrown in the trash, and we get lowest common denominator pandering, as Perry and company get their dancing, singing, and laughing in, and we're stuck, held hostage, wondering if the show will ever finally conclude.
It's a crying shame, too, as there are some good moments here, and some great humor. Perry is the highlight, of course, as Madea constantly breaks into a male voice, which is beyond hilarious. Davis is also wonderful as the counter to Madea, with the two playing off each other's characters wonderfully. It's fairly obvious that the elder women of the show were written first, then the generic characters were added in later. Of course, there's the "has all his ducks in a row" professional, well to do doctor who wants to take the sister with the least going for her out for some dancing and romancing, but, come on, there's one of those characters in almost every Perry production. We should be used to it by now. Don't forget the pissed off, but not quite sure why, independent woman, either! 'Madea's Big Happy Family' falls into almost every one of Perry's film cliches, so one will have to wonder, will the upcoming film adaptation of the show be able to rise above these humble beginnings, or is it destined to be yet another preachy, generic feature in the "two films a year" contract Perry seems to have?
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play' hits Blu-ray with a Region A/B/C BD25 disc, the first Tyler Perry play to hit the format. There are a few pre-menu trailers that cannot be skipped altogether, just individually. The menu for this release is annoying, as it has an awkwardly placed twenty someodd second sound loop. The artwork for this release varies from the insert and the slipcover just slightly.
Lionsgate's 1080p transfer of 'Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play' is solid, but occasionally troubled, with the good outweighing the bad significantly...although the bad moments are very convincing...
The good? Textures are often gorgeous and beyond life-like, with great detail and warmth coming out of the props on stage as well as the majority of the clothing. You can see the chalky make up often, and even a few spots of Madea man stubble, as well as gorgeous definition on hair, as well as fine edge pops and good three dimensionality. Close up shots can be defined in one word: damn!
The bad? Let's start with the opening polaroid shots aliasing terribly when they move (due to cheap effects), gritty mid-range shots early that are anything but flattering, with a good fifteen to twenty minutes early that suffers from some obvious blocking and artifacting, along with some rough shots. Skin tones are sometimes wonky and overly smoothed, but that is due to the makeup used, and the occasional shaky moments can also be blamed on the way the show was made, that human error element.
While there are some questionable spots in the video, there's no holding back the audio on this release, no sir, no how. 'Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play' sports a rocking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is sure to keep the experience lively and enjoyable, even in its low points.
From start to finish, you have a nice thumping, rocking bass, in the subwoofer and a little in the speakers, as well, with the music coming through not lacking in power one iota. Range is off the charts, with great sinking lows and shattering highs that all sound crisp and clear. Localization is lightly used, but rear usage in general is appreciable, with echos from the dialogue, as well as the audience reactions. While this track has power up to its nostrils, it sometimes has elements fighting each other for center stage, with a few moments, mostly when singing contrasts, getting lost along the way.
You may not be able to go to Tyler Perry's live plays, but with this disc, you won't miss any part of the experience.
The Tyler Perry Blu-rays usually have so many extras that it makes the absolute lack of 'em here a bit more noticeable.
'Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play' isn't bad, by any means, it just doesn't have the focus many will demand in a feature. The play is a wry mix of humor and religion, but it falls apart in a ridiculous musical medley that it cannot recover from. The Blu-ray release of Perry's play has good video, great audio, and not much in regards to supplements. Fans, this is a good enough disc to buy, no question. I just wonder how many non-fans will appreciate or enjoy this one.