Lord, hear our prayer: may the death of the world’s dearly beloved Madea not be in vain. And we thank you, Lord, that Tyler Perry shall never again don the grey wig and granny panties that inspire him to make incomprehensible jokes about disabled people, gay people, and old men objectifying younger women with wild abandon. Nevertheless: Say what you want about Tyler Perry, the prolific writer/director/performer is a master of character work — even totally unhinged and wildly problematic as those characters may be.
In “A Madea Family Funeral,” the twelfth and final installment to the blockbuster franchise on which he made his name, Perry pulls out all the old favorites: Pervy old man Joe, straight man Brian, a wiser, more beneficent Madea, and perhaps the most confounding, the paraplegic, Jheri curl-rocking Uncle Heathrow who can only speak through a vocoder. Rather than going out with a bang, however, the final installment in the franchise hinges its loose plot around the marital infidelities of younger, humorless characters so thinly sketched that it is impossible to care about them.
Perry’s voice work for the character who built his empire is certainly impressive; Madea’s soothing high register is strangely convincing as a woman of a certain age, and Perry wisely uses a few well-timed flips into his rumbling baritone sparingly. His dizzying performances, along with the madcap ravings of the portly Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and the high-pitched clucking Hattie (Patrice Lovely), are the best thing about most Madea movies, and “A Madea Family Funeral” is no exception. Unfortunately, that’s about the only positive thing to be said about this boring, cheeseball mess of a finale, which offers very little evidence of Perry’s writing or directing skills.
The movie begins with preparations for a 40th anniversary party, which sets Madea, Joe, Bam, Hattie, and Brian off on a road trip to visit the extended family. Things get hairy (for them and the audience) when Brian gets pulled over by the cops for swerving. Upstanding citizen Brian (played by Perry sans make-up and wig) is certain everything will be fine if he politely complies with the officers, ignoring his cantankerous elders’ warnings to the contrary. What ensues is a parody of an altercation between a black man and a racist white cop, which ends inexplicably in peaceful terms when the cop runs his license. Like most things in Perry’s movies, the incident is never mentioned again and has seemingly no impact on the greater story. If this is Perry trying to get political, it’s one of his most tasteless jokes yet.
When the motley crew arrives at their hotel, they discover one half of the anniversary couple in the arms of a younger woman, and he’s not breathing. Brian tries to revive him and Hattie tries to hump him, but neither is successful. The anniversary party turns into a funeral, and all the kids who came home have to work out their affairs in the middle of their very unconvincing grief. At least the comically long funeral (complete with full gospel choir) features a cameo by YouTube comedienne Joanne the Scammer, and the surprising gag of Uncle Heathrow rocking a Nasty Woman pin.
Plot is secondary in a Madea movie; it’s simply the vague skeleton around which Perry hangs large group scenes where ridiculous characters, mostly ones played by Perry, can deliver rambling riffs of very little consequence. If one were teaching a screenwriting class about what not to do, “A Madea Family Funeral” would be the foundational text. The movie passes time with its many unnecessary characters, who exist solely to look pretty and sleep around. Then there’s the longwinded rantings of smack talking old people.
But the most offensive part of Perry’s whole bloated saga is that he doesn’t seem to have one iota of respect for the art of drag — the very thing that has made him the one-man movie magnate he is today. From jokes about someone being gay for wearing tight jeans to Joe’s constant jabs at Madea for looking like a man, Perry peddles toxic masculinity by the spoonful while making millions off of the oldest queer art form there is. If Perry can’t recognize the hypocrisy in that, then Madea deserves the lackluster send-off she got.
“A Madea Family Funeral” opened in theaters on February 28.