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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Madea's Big Happy Family

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service


David Mann and Tyler Perry star in a scene from the movie "Madea's Big Happy Family."
Tyler Perry's broadly drawn morality plays, which include the stage version of "Madea's Big Happy Family" (Lionsgate), have proven so surefire with their targeted audience as to be critic-proof.

In these earthy, over-the-top crowd-pleasers, insults fly, family problems are solved, children learn to defer to adults and short-tempered Madea (Perry in a muumuu) occasionally slaps wrongdoers -- to wild audience cheers. But there's a warm heart somewhere as well as a happy ending; the plays exist in a sentimental universe of their own.

In motion picture form, however, the flaws become more apparent, and they're not above criticism -- nor should they be.

The problem is not in the simple plot, in which Madea's appealingly gentle niece Shirley (Loretta Devine) learns she has terminal cancer and tries to gather her three adult children—Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid), Kimberly (Shannon Kane) and Byron (Shad "Bow Wow" Moss)—at her house to tell them the bad news.

The grown siblings, we discover, are all locked in dysfunctional relationships, sometimes with insolent children, while recently released ex-con Byron is also dabbling again in the drug dealing that landed him in jail.

The genuinely troublesome parts of this adaptation—which Perry both wrote and directed—consist of bug-eyed characterizations and comments that invoke not so much old racial stereotypes, as newly minted ones of Perry's own creation. These begin with Madea's pot-smoking sister Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), who supposedly has co-matriarch status with Madea as a moral force, but spends the first half of the film in a literal haze.

There's a particularly ugly comment, moreover, aimed by Madea at husband Joe (also Perry) when she refers to him as a "silverback."

Worthy messages about spouses respecting each other, children obeying adults and families learning to function as a unit while buffeted by the stresses of modern life get somewhat overshadowed by all this unsettling material.

Madea, to Tyler's credit, is never as simplistic as the Atlanta milieu in which she's placed. Although she has no particular religious precepts of her own—she explains that she knows God is angry at her—she fully expects her relatives to live up to the Christian faith they profess to have, and she manages to produce a few fractured Biblical quotations along the way.

Such an off-kilter but engaged approach to religion could yield some interesting results; it's too bad they're largely lost in a flurry of slaps upside the head.

The film contains marijuana use, some adult humor, fleeting crass language and slapstick violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.

 
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