TYLER PERRY'S MEET THE BROWNSPG-13
It's almost impossible to critique a Tyler Perry movie anymore, since a cult of personality has replaced any concern by audiences over whether the playwright-turned-filmmaker's work is actually any good or even, as in the case of his latest play adaptation, competent. We get it, that middle-class African-Americans are underserved by Hollywood. We get it, that Perry, as is often pointed out, speaks the language of his audience. Yet how that excuses truly poor filmmaking, we don't get—and to say it's a black thing and that a white reviewer can't understand is not only racist but demeaning. If a knowledgeable and experienced critic can write astutely about German films, Hindi films and Asian films, then pray tell, is there some reason we cannot do likewise with African-American films? No—and it's painful and a bit disgusting that we'd have to preface a pan with all this, as a way to head off knee-jerk reactions.
However popular Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns may prove to be, it doesn't change the fact that by any aesthetic or cinematic standard, it is a terrible movie. The writing is shallow and often devoid of logic. The direction and editing are clunky and graceless. The casting is so off that a supposed young basketball superstar isn't much taller than Angela Bassett. That often-remarkable actress gives the worst performance of her career, floundering without any directorial guidance as to who her character is—other than a straw dog changing to fit plot contrivances. And Perry again rehashes the same Prince Charming fantasy of Why Did I Get Married? (2007) and his other films, and by this point it looks like nothing but simple pandering to lovesick female audience members. Romance novels do the same thing, and nobody calls them high art.
Single mother Brenda (Bassett) lives in a Chicago project with her son Michael (Lance Gross), a basketball star with the Brady High School Bears; school-age daughter Tosha (Chloe Bailey); and preschooler Lena (Mariana Tolbert). The kids each have different fathers, but for unexplained reasons, Brenda—whom Bassett doesn't play as a stupid or even an uneducated person—doesn't go after the girls' fathers for child support, and barely goes to gainfully employed bastard Michael Sr. (Phillip Van Lear). So why set the story in Chicago, where pro-bono feminist lawyers and social workers are more than happy to pursue deadbeat dads? It doesn't make sense unless you show Brenda as mousy or beaten-down or some other plausible reason why a woman portrayed as a caring mom wouldn't take those avenues. Let's grant that the human heart is complex, but neither Bassett nor the script provides any indication at all.
Brenda learns that her long-estranged father has died, and that she has an extended family in small-town Georgia. There's the clownish Leroy Brown (David Mann) and his daughter Cora (real-life wife Tamela Mann); Leroy's older brother L.B. (Frankie Faison) and his wife Sarah (Margaret Avery, always good to see); and bitchy sister Vera (Jenifer Lewis) and her grown son Will (Lamman Rucker). Romance comes by way of Harry Belden (Rick Fox), a former NBA player who now does a little recruiting. In Chicago, Brenda has best friend Cheryl (Colombian sexpot Sofia Vergara, playing a Latina caricature more offensive than the Frito Bandito) and local matriarch Miss Mildred (Irma P. Hall, masterfully fleshing out a stock character into an individual human being).
Worst of all? A one-scene cameo by Perry in drag as his signature character, bad-ass mama Madea. Shoehorned into the movie, it's the desperate mark of a one-trick pony. Let's face it: The emperor has no dress.