The Family That Preys is, at best, a guilty pleasure. It is not the type that will leave you feeling good, but it could be the kind that leaves you in tears. One would not be able to watch this movie on a girls-night-in, laugh with her friends and feel better afterward. The Family That Preys is the kind of chick flick that one might watch alone, with ice cream. It has the texture of a soap opera with prostheletization on goodness and Jesus threaded through it. It is a depressingly bad movie, filled to the brim with clichés, overly simplistic characters and age old stereotypes.
Alice (Alfre Woodard) and Charlotte (Kathy Bates) are involved in an interracial friendship that teaches them both lessons. The film follows their story and the tribulations of their children. Their children are simply good and evil stereotypes. Alice’s daughter, Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) turns evil once she finishes her finance degree and joins a big corporate firm. She has an affair with Charlotte’s son, William (Cole Hauser), who just so happens to run said evil empire. Alice’s other daughter, Pam (Taraji P. Henson) is a paragon of virtue. There are two types of characters in this film, the kind that bring misery on other people and the kind that are full on saints. Although this is an ensemble cast, it feels like there are a lot of actors, but only a few characters.
Alice definitely makes saint status. All of her intentions are good and she doesn’t drink. She spouts one liners like “Be careful how you talk to strangers because you could be talking to an angel.” Alice owns a diner that is called “Wing and a Prayer.” At one point in the film, she goes into a male strip club (against her will, obviously), and ends up throwing holy water on one man and batting another off with her bible, literally. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a saintly character in a film, in fact Woodard is quite amazing in this film. The problem is that this is not a complex character. Even though she was created by an African American man (Tyler Perry), she still comes off as being the total cliché of a black grandmother, nothing more, nothing less. She borders on being heavy-handedly religious, as she tells Charlotte “That’s why Jesus died for all of our sins.” Again, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with religion being incorporated into a movie, but it is just sitting there complacently, expecting you to understand and be a part of it already.
The Family That Preys has about two too many plot lines. There is the friendship between Alice and Charlotte. Then there are quite a few subplots: Andrea and William’s affair, Alice’s son in laws trying to start a building company of their own, William’s marriage, and the marriages of both of Alice’s daughters. The ensemble cast leads to there being too many characters to follow home. Alice and Charlotte go on a road-trip and have basically their own movie while all of the melodrama cooks back home. Perry should have just created a buddy film about two women in platonic love. Woodard and Bates have a magical bond in this film and are absolutely adorable together. Their little vacation is definitely the highlight of the film (which is not really saying much). But, unfortunately, they return to the soapy subplots.
Watching previews for Tyler Perry movies has always been, for me, an exercise in strength. They make me feel like I’m going to cry. I had never seen a Tyler Perry film before watching The Family That Preys, but I had always wanted to. And, after watching it, I hope that I never have to watch another again. I learned two things from watching The Family That Preys: 1) Alfre Woodard is amazing and 2) Kathy Bates has balls for being in a Tyler Perry movie. Although there are some quaint moments between the two older women, this film is completely unredeemable. Watching people prance around acting and speaking within stereotypical parameters is not my idea of a good time.
The special features on the disc are surprisingly satisfying. There are four featurettes, four deleted scenes and some previews for other Lionsgate films. The only thing lacking from this disc is a commentary with Mr. Perry himself. But, I imagine, with him being the Oprah of the movie industry, he’s quite busy. I would have loved to hear his perspective on the film. I think it would have really helped me to understand why he created the characters the way he did. I think it is always an oversight not to have the creator of a film on the special features for a commentary if he has written, directed, produced and acted in it. It is then his responsibility to explain it to us.
The four featurettes are thorough and cover casting, location, and production design. The first one, called “Two Families, Two Legends,” is about Woodard and Bates and is basically a bunch of interviews with the cast, producers and Perry about how fantastic Woodard and Bates are separately and together. Although it is a little redundant, I couldn’t help but get swept up in the energy behind the casting of these two screen stars. There is another featurette about the ensemble cast that is more of the same. The production of the movie seems like it was a boat-load of fun. One of the other little documentaries follow the story of how they filmed a scene in New Orleans. The last is about how they constructed the Wing and A Prayer diner. Although none of these featurettes really get to the heart of the production, they do capture the mood behind the scenes of the film, which is more than many special features achieve.
Deleted scenes are always tricky to watch, because you can usually tell why the scenes got cut. These deleted scenes are great to watch, though, because they really just give you more of the movie. There is no discarded plotline, just the fleshing out of ones that are already there. Any fan of this movie will be delighted to find such polished deleted scenes waiting for them at the end of this film. The special features almost make me regret the fact that I hate this film.