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Tyler Perry has had an impressively long career, serving as an actor, writer, director, and producer at various points. But through all the years and countless projects on the stage and screen, there's been one constant: Mabel "Madea" Simmons. Perry's name is almost synonymous with his loud and sassy drag persona, as he's played Madea for nearly two decades. But all good things must come to an end, and the filmmaker will hang up his wig and glasses for the final time with A Madea Family Funeral.
While Tyler Perry wasn't aware that it was his last run as Madea while filming A Madea Family Funeral, the title seems all the more appropriate considering the fate of the title character. The movie isn't set around Madea's funeral, but it ended up being just that. But unfortunately for Ms. Simmons, the new release doesn't exactly send her off in the best way.
A Madea Family Funeral focuses on Madea's family in Backwoods, Georgia. What was supposed to be a fun family reunion soon goes to hell, as the patriarch of the family suddenly passes on. This loss escalates already existing tensions, and all sorts of family secrets boil to the surface. And of course, Madea is there to comment on it all, and give some tough love when needed.
The narrative of the movie follow some predictable Tyler Perry beats. There are some unfaithful lovers whose lust and mistakes risk blowing up the entire family unit. The story shifts between the interpersonal drama between members of the family and Madea and her sidekicks coming in to lighten the mood and throw zingers at the rest of the cast. The latter is much more effective, as the main story is both convoluted and predictable.
The biggest issue with A Madea Family Funeral is the script, which Tyler Perry wrote alongside his duties as star, director, and producer. The dialogue is often lazy or obvious, particularly in moments where the film is trying to be serious. The opening scene is so bogged down by exposition that I found myself having some nervous laughter, and praying that an actual joke would arrive to help alleviate the tension.
When the awkward silences are filled in, there are opportunities for laughs. Tyler Perry gives his always spirited performance to smack-talking Madea, while also splitting his time among three other characters. In addition to playing Uncle Joe and Brian, the film's franchise architect also debuted a new member of the family: Heathrow. Yet another elderly curmudgeon in the cast, Heathrow is an old scoundrel who uses a throat back to speak and an electric wheelchair to move around. He's the first character Perry plays in the the movie, and you can tell he's having a good time playing someone fresh.
A Madea Family Funeral is an uneven and messy movie, but it does feature a surprisingly political sequence. When Brian is pulled over in a routine traffic stop, Tyler Perry takes the time to address police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. In my screening, I felt the room tense up as the difficult subject was broached, and then exhale to enjoy the comedy that Perry put into the timely scene. While showing how some police officers could go too far, Madea ended up being the voice of reason, encouraging everyone in the car to comply with the cop. It's the strongest scene in the movie, and you can tell that Tyler Perry put some extra thought into how it would all play out.
Tyler Perry is joined by some familiar faces in A Madea Family Funeral, and they do their best with a lackluster script. Returning faces include frequent Perry collaborator Cassi Davis' Aunt Bam, Patrice Lovely's Hattie Mae, and former WWE member David Otunga. While they might not have been given the best material to work with, the actors are clearly doing their best with what they've got.
There are some laughs to be had with A Madea Family Funeral (Joanne The Scammer makes an appearance), but it might be a good time for Tyler Perry to retire both the title character and the larger franchise. Perry does all of the heavy lifting in these projects, which may be too much for the filmmaker to handle. It's just a shame that Madea didn't leave the film world under better circumstances.
A Madea Family Funeral will arrive in theaters on March 1st.