“A Madea Family Funeral” is billed as the final big screen appearance for Madea – the wisecracking grandma creation from Tyler Perry who has appeared in more than half a dozen films in the past 14 years.
Perry clearly has affection for this character he portrays in drag – a big, boisterous frame of a woman that matches her big, boisterous personality. It’s too bad that her final screen appearance suffers from the same problems as her previous ventures – mainly Perry, who also serves as the writer and director (as well as three other roles).
It’s as if Perry the filmmaker doesn’t know how to showcase his iconic character, consistently sticking her in material that feels more like a rejected TV pilot than a feature-length film.
That’s the big problem with “Funeral,” which finds Madea, her brother Joe (also Perry), and friends Bam (Cassi Davis)and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) headed to a family celebration for the wedding anniversary of Vianne (Jen Harper) and Anthony (Derek Morgan).
The celebration turns to mourning when Anthony dies of a heart attack in a compromising position. It turns out Anthony isn’t the only person in the family with secrets as we learn of trysts and betrayals throughout the family.
They’re the kind of secrets that wouldn’t even work in a soap opera, yet Perry tries to sell all of it – resulting in several plot threads that lack any interest pretty much from the start.
While all of this is going on, we still have Madea there to provide wisecracks and help Vianne – mainly by assisting with the funeral arrangements. That act leads to perhaps the film’s best moments – a funeral where Madea wants everyone to pay their respects as quickly as possible, only to have the services last more than nine hours.
The irony of this joke is that it is pretty much everything that is wrong with “Funeral.” Way too many scenes feel like Perry turned on a camera without any idea what the purpose of the scene was – resulting in lengthy comic bits that are stretched way longer than they have any business being. Madea and her friends can be funny, but when a scene rambles for more than 10 minutes and the characters start repeating jokes that didn’t work the first time, then the director (or writer) needs to step in and assist with how to make the scene work.
Perry seems to be too enamored with everything, determined to work every possible improvisation into the film. It just doesn’t work. In fact, it’s never worked, yet Perry keeps doing the same thing over and over again.
Perhaps getting away from the Madea character will be a good thing for Perry as a writer/director because he will be forced to be a little more creative from here on out.
It’s just too bad Perry never truly made good use of Madea in his films, because this is a character who always had potential – but now it looks like that potential will never be realized.