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10 Important Life Lessons I Learned from Watching Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 25, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 25, 2011 |

1. If you want a woman to respect you, you have to put your foot down. You have to put the woman in her place. Threaten her with the back of your hand every once in a while, and you’ll have a long and loving marriage.

2. If you want your kids to respect you, then your wife has to respect you. If you want your wife to respect you, see lesson one, above.

3. In addition to keeping your wife in check, it’s important to slap your kids around every once in a while. Show them who is boss with your fist.

4. Don’t use your Baby-Daddy’s infant child as leverage to get him to come back to you. If he doesn’t love you, let him go. Don’t call the police and lie to them and say your Baby-Daddy is in arrears on his child support if he is not, bitch.

5. Don’t get involved with gold diggers. They’ll pressure you into slinging dope so you can afford a nice crib. Gold digging women are also apparently immune to the back of your hand. They are bad news. See lesson number ten, below.

6. Take some responsibility for your actions. Don’t whine about the economy. Don’t complain if you lose your minimum wage job because your Baby Momma had you locked up under false pretenses. Pick your ass up, get yourself a job, and be a motherfucking man.

7. If you were abused as a child, it’s important to let your man in emotionally. Don’t push him away. And don’t disrespect your mother, especially after she raised your child as her own and kept it as the family secret for 18 years. (Rule only applies to women of higher socioeconomic status).

8. If you’re over the age of 40, schedule regular doctor visits for colonoscopies and to have your prostate examined. If you lose blood, however, do not ask your child to donate, as it may put you in a position to have your paternity investigated on Maury Povich’s talk show.

9. Words that end in vowel sounds, like “Hello” and “Hallelujah” are far more amusing to the audience if you add an R to the end of those words, especially if you over-pronounce the R like “Hellooeeerrrr.”

10. If your relationship with a woman falters, as it inevitably will, call 1-800-Choke-a-Ho.

As for the movie itself? Tyler Perry is like the nemesis who has survived for so long that you come to respect his perseverance. And after as many Tyler Perry films as I have seen, I still don’t agree with his philosophies, but I can see his perspective. Obviously, I don’t agree with the misogyny or the violence (even if, in Madea’s Big Happy Family the violence is mostly threatened, and usually to elicit laughs), but the overriding message of Tyler Perry films is not that dissimilar to late-in-life Bill Cosby’s, only it’s more crass. Tyler Perry is basically saying to his audience: Pick your ass up. Stop whining. Stop blaming other people for your problems. Fix the relationships you can, get out of the ones you can’t. Put your faith in the church, but don’t expect the church to fix your life. Get a decent job. Respect your mother, and “be a motherfucking man.”

All in all, there are a lot worse ways at looking at life. See Atlas Shrugged.

Madea’s Big Happy Family, which is something like Perry’s 10th feature film in the last five years, is neither his worst effort nor his best. There’s a few laughs hidden beneath the broad stereotypes, and there’s some honest truths buried somewhere under the mounds of sexism. It plays to his audience, and is that such a bad thing? Kevin Smith has been playing to his audience for 15 years. The difference is: Tyler Perry’s audience is predominantly black and much, much larger.

In Big Happy Family, the always amazing Loretta Devine stars as Shirley, the family matriarch diagnosed with cancer with only weeks to live. Before she passes away, she wants to bring her entire family together for a nice dinner so that she can let her children know she is dying and enjoy one last time together as a family before she kicks it upstairs. It’s not as easy as it seems, however, because each time she brings her children together, they end up bickering about marriage, their children, or their jobs, and someone storms out in a huff before she gets the opportunity to reveal her secret.

Those children include Kimberly (Shannon Kane), the wealthy and cold-hearted bitch who is as mean to her mother as she is her husband, the doting Calvin (Isaiah Mustafa). The other daughter is Tammy (Natalie Desselle), who doesn’t respect her husband because he’s a push-over with both her and his children, who are spoiled little shits. Then there’s the son, Byron (Bow Wow), recently out of prison, trying to make a respectable buck to support to his infant while also attempting not to succumb to the pressures of his girlfriend, who wants him to sell drugs again so he can afford a nice place for the two to live.

Then, of course, there’s Madea (Tyler Perry), and despite the fact that her name is in the movie title, she’s usually a side-plot to the main storyline of her films, as she is here. She plays the sister to Shirley. She comes in and straightens everyone out in the end with a few harsh words and a couple of hellooeeers. And I’ll be honest: I like Madea in small doses, not for who she is, but for what she stands for: That take no-shit, fuck ‘em, take responsibility for your own actions, clean up your own mess attitude. Big Happy Family is the perfect vehicle for her; she gets to come in, steal a few scenes, and get out of the way before she wears out her welcome.

Is it a good movie? At a certain point, it’s just not for me to say anymore. Tyler Perry has a base, and his base doesn’t read reviews of his films, nor should they. Critics, by and large, hate them. His audience, by and large, loves them. (Over on RottenTomatoes, Big Happy Family has scored 35 percent from critics, and 90 percent from audiences). If they loved the last eight or nine movie, there’s no reason to believe his audience will think any less of this one, and some asshole with a blog is not going to change their mind. On the other hand, if you’ve never seen a Tyler Perry movie, and you’re simply curious, this is as good a place to start as any: It highlights all the positive aspects as well as the ugliness of Tyler Perry movies in equal measure. It’s a broad melodramatic comedy with all the subtlety of two-by-four to the junk, and it is, as all Perry movies are, degrading to women. But, refreshingly, it also cuts through all the Y-Gen coddle-me bullshit. It pleases the very crowd it’s designed to please with a few big laughs, an uplifting gospel number, and some shrill but blunt life-lessons delivered with the traumatic force of an aneurysm. Aside a couple of the themes, I didn’t care for it as a movie, but as an asshole with a blog, I’m not willing to speak for TP’s audience.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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