Studio Briefing reports today that there were no advance media screenings of Madea’s Family Reunion in the United States, presumably to avoid the critical drubbing that Diary of a Mad Black Woman got when it opened last year. However, I happened to see the film four days ago with a bunch of other local critics, so I guess Canada is an exception — which is an interesting reversal of sorts, since Diary didn’t open or even press-screen in Canada until a few weeks after it opened at #1 in the States. (And this, despite the fact that the films are produced by Lionsgate, a Canadian company!)
I have never seen Diary, but I remember it got some pretty bad reviews, and if Madea’s Family Reunion is any indication of what that other film was like, then I can see why. The visuals are extremely blah (the film is little more than a series of close-ups on people’s faces), the humour isn’t all that funny, the melodrama is too crassly soap-operatic (including a “forgiveness” element that is introduced with all the message-driven non-subtlety of a church-service skit, and I say this as one who has acted in a few), and there’s some heavy speechifying at the family reunion itself (much of it directed at characters we have never seen before, and all of it spoken by characters we have never seen before, but the speakers are played by the likes of Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson, so we know it’s all Very Important; did these characters exist in the original play?). It’s pretty mediocre all-around.
Watching this movie was more of an exercise in cultural studies than in moviegoing, or entertainment, or whatever. I mean, I’m floored when I hear that Tyler Perry has made a fortune off of these plays and their straight-to-DVD adaptations; and of course now he’s making even more millions via the movie versions. He’s obviously resonating with something in the African-American subculture, all the more so because his films (and plays?) wouldn’t seem to have any particularly great merit as films (and plays).
Of course, you could say the same thing about the Christian subculture and the Left Behind movies, and gay friends of mine have grumbled about the low quality of movies produced primarily for the gay subculture, too. These films, too, are more interesting for what they reveal about their cultures than for any inherent artistic or even entertainment-value reasons.
As for the audiences that embrace such films, I guess they figure mediocrity isn’t so bad when it’s our mediocrity.