Tyler Perry has been around almost as long as this site now, cranking out two films a year since his 2005 debut, Diary of a Black Woman. After 14 or 15 films that recycle the same themes and feature the same character types, it’s as impossible to write a fresh review of a Tyler Perry film as it is for him to make an original one. We haven’t bothered with a few of the most recent flicks, mostly because I can’t bring myself to assign them to someone else, and at this point, I’ve seen seven or eight myself, and it hardly seems worth the effort of watching yet another one of his films and exhaust myself trying to come up with a new way of trashing the same old thing.
But, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas seemed to offer at least a yuletide twist to the old formula, and the prospect of making fun of a bunch of washed-up actors made it seem worthwhile, until I watched the movie, that is. I mean, let’s be honest, most of these actors don’t really need the piling on. Chad Michael Murray plays the redneck villain in A Madea’s Christmas, Alicia Witt (where did she go?) plays his put-upon wife, and Lisa Welchel (Facts of Life) plays a school principal. If that’s not enough, Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus) is in this as the wife of a character played by Larry the Cable Guy, who basically plays another redneck version of himself (although, this redneck does not see skin color). On the one hand, it’s low-hanging fruit, but on the other, it kind of makes fun of itself, and adding to the insult of appearing in a Tyler Perry film almost feels cruel. Besides, I have always appreciated how much work Tyler Perry gives to actresses like Anna Maria Horsford, or Anika Noni Rose, or Regina King, or Jill Scott, or a dozen other African-American actors and actresses who wouldn’t otherwise have parts written for them.
Now, as for Tyler Perry dramas? There’s not much value in them: They’re heavy-handed morality plays that often posses a misogynistic undercurrent that doesn’t sit well with me. But the comedies, particularly the ones like A Madea’s Christmas that heavily feature Madea? Let me put it this way. They’re like weddings with bad DJs that play the Electric Slide and “It’s Raining Men” and a dozen other standard wedding tracks that you would never willingly play at your own wedding, but that somehow seem to work in a certain context.
It goes something like this: The DJ puts on “YMCA” or “We Are Family.” Your embarrassing uncle gets out on the dance floor, and you try to look away while he makes a damn fool of himself because you’re ashamed to be related to him You put your head in your palms and sigh and wish for it all to go away, because you’re just too cool for this stupidity. And your mother? Oh, God! What is she doing flirting with that young guy during “Hot, Hot Hot”? Please stop that, Mom. You’re killing me!
But then you have a drink or two, and suddenly you find yourself egging your goofy uncle on, and instead of being ashamed of him, you’re giggling like a ninny. Three or four drinks later, and you’re suddenly out there on the goddamn dance floor with him doing the “Macarena” like a damned idiot, only you’re so wasted that you don’t care. You’re having a good time, and it doesn’t matter that you’re doing “Gangnam Style,” because you’re surrounded by friends and family who are doing it right along with you, and who gives a sh*t, right?
That’s been my experience with most Tyler Perry comedies. They’re terrible, but when you’re in a theater full of people laughing their goddamn heads off, at some point, it breaks you. Instead of fighting against it, you give in to the spirit of it. Yeah, it’s dumb, but who cares? This man dressed like a woman can’t pronounce anyone’s name correctly and she’s rattling off malapropisms faster than Anna Kendrick during a Rocket Science debate. It’s stupid as hell but also a little bit funny, in the right context. And who are we to judge Tyler Perry, when an entirely different crowd in a different theater is laughing uproariously at a dwarf taking out orcs while he spins in a splintering barrel?
At some point in every Tyler Perry comedy, it’s no longer about the movie. It’s about the communal vibe, it’s about the 40 or 50 people in the theater with you, most of whom are someone’s drunk uncle or nattering aunt. It’s about giving in to the spirit of the crowd. It’s about shouting “Tin Roof Rusted” when the wedding DJ plays “Love Shack.” What’s the harm? Laughter is infectious, and it doesn’t matter how awful or embarrassing or silly the source of the laughter is. Tyler Perry, God bless him, brings together a lot of people who don’t give a shit what other people think, to laugh at a ridiculous man in old-lady garb dropping folksy truthisms and telling it like it is. And with these damn Madea comedies, it works every time on me (you can check the archives). I mean, how can you shake your head and look shamefully upon an overweight 50-year-old woman with an oxygen tank in the row in front of you who laughs until she’s wheezing? You can’t. You pick her oxygen mask up off the floor, help her put it back on, you shrug your shoulders, and you go right on laughing along with her.
Sometimes, I think snobbery is just a way of insulating us from having a good time, and while I will never concede that these Madea comedies are any damn good, I don’t mind admitting that I leave the theater happier than how I entered it.