Tyler Perry's film adaptation of his 'Madea's Family Reunion' play may very well be one of the most disturbing movies I've seen in some time. No, that isn't a joke or a snide comment about the quality of the film. In all actuality, it's fairly well paced and put together, even if there are some bizarre stretches, redundant scenes, and questionable editing choices...I could go on for an hour, really. I actually mean that I found myself getting uncomfortable with what I was seeing on screen. Please keep in mind that I was full of wonder and glee when I sat down to 'A Serbian Film' last month.
So, what is so darned controversial about this film? The portrayal of domestic violence, and the way characters react to it. Sure, Perry's films usually have a controversial subject matter in one of the dueling story arcs, in order to show the low down opposite of the religious angles pushed, so I wasn't shocked that these good Christian films would have such barbaric depictions. It's just the way it's discussed and shown, it's borderline sickening. I really don't see how anyone can sit down to this film and feel good about anything by the time it's done, after being raked over the coals for two hours of woman beating and "shocking revelations" that make the situation even worse.
Simply put, 'Madea's Family Reunion' may be the worst of Perry's films, due to the haphazard manner in which stories with drastically different themes co-mingle, on top of mind-numbingly awful characters who make ridiculously stupid decisions, who can act out of pure evil...yet not truly get what's coming to them in the end. There's no catharsis here. There's only pointless pain and suffering. And Madea. But to some of you, mentioning her after pain and suffering is redundant.
Love is in the air. Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) and her husband-to-be Carlos (Blair Underwood) have the perfect relationship. They go to fancy places, have a wonderful home, and Carlos regularly beats the living shit out of her. Wait, what?! The smallest error or misstep can send the domineering man into a woman-beating frenzy, yet Lisa remains with her man. Her mother, Victoria (Lynn Whitfield), knows of the abuse, yet, due to her greed and wanting to get her hands on Carlos' bank account, she encourages/forces Lisa to stay whenever she finally realizes she's not a punching bag. Her sister, Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), has the opposite problem with men: she has two kids, can't trust men with them, and doesn't want to let anyone in, especially not Frankie (Boris Kodjoe), the bus driver who has the big time hots for her. Lisa and Vanessa's aunt Mabel, also known as Madea (Perry), would probably step in and shoot Carlos, if not for the fact she's been tied down to a foster child (Keke Palmer) as punishment for her latest offense.
Did any of that make sense to you? It didn't for me, and I had to sit through two hours worth of it. The amount of preposterous, nonsensical occurrences in this film is ridiculous, from bookend to bookend. Start with Madea, who is relatively tame in this outing, being assigned a foster child by a judge who knows she's a powder keg waiting to go off. Surely there are better qualified parents than her, right? Apparently not, but don't worry, we see Madea smack the hell out of the young disrespectful child aplenty to make up for it. Heck, Madea even beats the hell out of another kid, in front of witnesses, for back-talking her. That's hardly foster parent material, folks.
Then there's Lisa. Apparently she's been beaten so regularly that she's had the sense knocked out of her. She gets her life threatened, but she's chill with that. She eventually tries to escape, but does it at night...when her husband is home. Doesn't he have a demanding day job to go to the next day that will give you a good eight hours to pack and run? She confides in her mother, who tells her that men do such things, and to move past it. The hell?! Lisa almost advocates spousal abuse by putting up with it for so long. It's not a good message to pass on. Carlos, we get it, he's a one dimensional woman beater, whose own insecurities cause him to be a total douche. That's not so hard.
Vanessa isn't innocent, either. For one, as a rape survivor, let alone a child rape survivor, she somehow let someone impregnate her. Twice. So why is it such a big deal that a man, with a kid of his own, is near her kids? The guy who helped her spawn two broodlings was in the vicinity of them at some point, as well, right? She's a bi-polar creature, who is either acting out of self pity or extreme man-hating paranoia. All because of her evil mother. So...why doesn't someone whose mother helped a man rape her tell her little sister about it? Wouldn't that make sense? Apparently not. She furthers Lisa's issues by not being upfront with her about their mother, even if she tries to coerce Lisa to leave an abusive situation.
But the worst, obviously, is Victoria. The child-rape advocating (and justifying!) woman who is also pretty chill with having her other daughter beaten to a pulp, solely so she can have a bigger bank account, is evil incarnate. She even acts like a temptress to Carlos, the man engaged to and beating her daughter. What. The. Hell?! What's worse, though, is that in all the mess that is the final act, not once does Victoria get her comeuppance. Not once. She gets off scott free. What message is that sending?! The daughters would have been within their rights to slaughter her, Christianity and forgiveness be damned, and they do nothing. They move on. What lesson do we learn here?!
'Madea's Family Reunion' not only features baffling characters, but it also has cinema's most bizarre reunion scene...ever. How many family reunions have guys gambling playing dice, getting in each others faces ready to go to blows, people dancing (and by dancing I mean grinding like a stripper) provocatively with relatives, and old men lusting after the behinds of their nieces or grand-nieces? It's the most insane, dysfunctional family in history, and that's not even mentioning Madea!!!
Perry really missed the mark here. His film almost advocates all the negative things it portrays by showing how few negative (if any) consequences will come from them. It plays the forgiveness card too readily. I could not imagine being someone who has suffered through the things shown on screen, and being okay with it. I'd be outright furious that such horrible events are dismissed so readily, so easily, despite the fact that they ruin a person for years, if not for the entirety of their remaining lives. This film is irresponsible, deplorable, and flat out disturbing. I didn't miss the message preached within. I think I caught it pretty loud and clear.
I don't know whether to blame the disc or the source. I will say, either way, a film from 2006 should look better than this, as there are few night shots to mess it up (unlike, say, 'Date Night'), and no fancy gimmickry that can go awry. Lionsgate's 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode reminds me of the classic cartoons where a bomb is affixed to a note on a piano, and the target keeps messing up and missing it, driving the saboteur to show them how it's done and, in the process, blowing himself up. This one is like the innocent player, who just keeps on hitting the wrong spots, keeps on messing up, instead of giving us high-def candy by blowing the roof off with picture that explodes off the screen. Went a different way with that than you thought I would, didn't I?
I don't have enough fingers on my right hand to list off the problems with the picture. Start with busy whites (that can glow awkwardly) and slight noise, move forward to some artifacting and very light banding, keep on going past skin tones that sometimes look red (and not from bruising), to crushing black levels, to some slight chroma fringing in a few spots, and on to some extremely dull midrange shots, and you have a laundry list of missed notes. The entire film feels like contrast levels were blown up to the extreme, and the picture gets ugly as hell at times for it. It's just unfortunate, as there are some nice moments that should have been great looking, but sadly weren't.
'Madea's Family Reunion' isn't a wall to wall sonic wonder, but it isn't bad for a film of its ilk, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that has some great moments...but a few bad ones, too. Dialogue is always comprehensible, even over some heavier soundtrack elements, sticking to the front channels like gum. Rears do get a fair share of activity, not too much, while bass levels, lordy, the soundtrack can get awfully bumpin' in a spot or two, it's a good rattler, for sure. I have to point out that room dynamics for this track are questionable at best, with a few sequences sounding hollow, then harsh and brunt, just uneven. It's not frequent or prevalent enough to distract entirely, but it did bother me quite a bit.
'Madea's Family Reunion' is not a good film. Not by a long shot. Tyler Perry's play/film his a disastrous narrative, with the most disgusting, despicable characters compiled in one film. There is no positive message, no redemption, no anything. Just two hours of suffering. The Blu-ray release of the film has mediocre video and good audio qualities, and a whole boatload of special features, including a ton of deleted scenes that make the film a bit too big for its own britches. Fans, this one is a must, but those uninitiated, definitely steer clear.