Perhaps it was all too befitting for the introduction of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big, Happy Family to be in the form of a cartoon.  After you catch a colorful glimpse of all the main caricatures, I mean characters, in Madea’s Big, Fat, African-American family, in all their goofy glory, the reel becomes “real” life, focusing in on a hospital.  Inside the medical facility, we see Shirley, played by the sweet and sassy Loretta Devine (For Colored Girls), along with Cassi Davis’ (Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) hilarious Aunt Bam. Shirley, who has been battling cancer, is supposed to be having a serious follow up visit with her doctor, who just happens to a fine brotha with “the light eyes”, while Aunt Bam is busy trying to get busy with the doctor, feeling him up, to see if he can be her “Dr. Feel Good.”  Neither womyn gets the answer they were hoping for, and so the story unfolds.

After Shirley learns that her health has taken a turn for the worse, she makes a plan with Aunt Bam to invite all of her children over for dinner so she can tell them the grim news.  Sounds simple right?  Wrong is not a right enough way to describe just how “wrong” that simple idea goes.  Shirley’s two daughters, with husbands and kids in tow, can’t stand one another, and her son, Byron, played by Bow Wow (formerly know as Lil’ Bow Wow), has enough “Baby Mama Drama”, to file at least a couple restraining orders.  Shirley is too weak to stop World War III from forging amongst her family, and Aunt Bam’s too high… um, “off life” to bring everybody together for long.  So, who you gonna call?  Why, Shirley’s aunt of course, the famous and infamous Madea Simmons.

Now, you may be asking yourself, who the heck is Madea anyway, and why does she look an awful lot like Tyler Perry?!?  You see, Madea is a creation straight from the master mind that is Tyler Perry, who’s not only a contender on my Top 10 Black Filmmakers List; he’s also a Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Songwriter, Author, Actor, and Playwright.  Well, let me back it up right quick, and say that Madea, Perry’s large and in charge, take no prisoners, fast talkin’, and even faster actin’, Bad Mamma Jamma Grandma, first made waves on stage, in public theaters, before his saucy senior character ever debuted on the Silver Screen with Madea’s Family Reunion.  And yes, the fabulously fictitious Madea, who Perry says, in his own words is “a cross between my mother and my aunt”, is portrayed by none other than Tyler Perry himself.  (Sorry, the tramp’s out the drag—I mean bag.)

As for what I actually think of the film (I know you were wondering when I’d get to that), I think Spike Lee’s comments about Tyler Perry’s films embodying “coonery and buffoonery”, that is to say racially stereotyped foolery, do have some merit.  Now, hold on, before you go thinkin’ I’m a Perry hater, hear me out.  With Perry’s over the top characters like Mr. Brown, who gets smacked down to the floor and ends up doing “the snake” after having his prostate checked, rambunctious Aunt Bam who says she “stay high”, Shirley’s daughter Kimberly who’s a “booshie” (read: stuck up, “act like she better”) ice queen, Byron’s Baby Mama who’s a whole lotta Drama and a “Ghetto Queen”, and even Madea whose big ass “man hands” serve up swift back hands, that make her floppy “breastestsess” sway to and fro, you’ve got to admit that Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family could have remained in animation the whole way through, and most folks would be none the wiser.

In terms of how I feel about this latest installment to the Tyler Perry Empire, I must admit it was just what the doctor ordered!  Having snagged my Opening Night ticket, on “Good Earth Friday”, after a particularly stressful work week that left my brain completely fried, Big Happy Family allowed me to do something I hadn’t done properly in too long: laugh.  And not just smile, giggle, or chuckle, I’m talkin’ Belly Laughs, like the kind that came from the deep; the kind that had me stomp my feet, the kind that almost made me weep.  (Enjoy the rhythm and the rhyme, April’s National Poetry time!)  Yes!  I’ll shout it from the rooftops, this modern day buffoonery made my belly ache for more Madea.  Now I wanna watch Madea Goes to Jail, pronto!

What’s more, Big Happy Family is chock full of strong, central messages, and valuable life lessons.  For real tho’!  Besides Uncle Joe’s ramblings about “1-800-Choke-Dat-Hoe”, this film stays true to Perry’s themes, threaded and treaded upon heavily in all his productions, such as the importance of family, “old school” parenting, prayer, and spirituality.  This particular edition seemed to focus even more on health than some of his other works, covering topics such as Diabetes, Obesity, Cancer, and Anger Management—or the lack thereof (cough, cough, Madea!)  Family secrets are also pivotal to the plot of Big Happy Family, in which Shirley’s illness becomes a catalyst to uncovering the roots of pain, anger, crime, and shame within the family tree.  Madea’s character is a wise-crackin’ elder, designed to make you learn your lessons, whether you like it or not, by way of tough love, and licks (and I don’t mean that of a Tootsie Roll Pop!)  Some of my favorite gems of wisdom from Madea include… “Christians need to know from the top. (You got to) knock them kids out!  (You got to know how to) use the ‘proscriptures.’”  The difference between “Old Whoop Ass” and “New Whoop Ass”.  And how to “sound proper” when responding to an elder: “Hell-err! Thank-Yerr!”  Also, I learned that Bow Wow is “Lil” no mo’; he is all grown up, and lookin’ fine!

Bouncing back to the buffoonery battle, the biggest argument in support of Tyler Perry being a credible talent who creates important works of art for our time, is that in stark contrast to the racially demeaning days of “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, “Mr. Bojangles”, and “Black Face”, Tyler Perry’s productions are made by, written by, and performed by HIMSELF.  It ain’t “the Man” running things; Perry IS the Man.  And love him or hate him, he has an expansive, and devoted fan base, one that does not have to detract from the “hi-art” cinema from the likes of Spike Lee, and others.  As for Perry’s personal coonery, or more specifically, his cross-dressing tendencies, I feel that his growing up around strong Black womyn who didn’t take no mess, coupled with his trauma from sexual abuse from an early age, mainly at the hands of men, has led Perry to respect and revere, if not Goddess-fear womyn.  He certainly seems to understand womyn more than the average filmmaker of any shade of the rainbow.  If you only go to see Big Happy Family, you may walk away thinking Perry hates womyn, yet having watched his dramatic debut in For Colored Girls, I know the truth: he actually hates men.  Just Kidding! (Sort of.)

Finally, to the lingering thoughts about Tyler Perry’s sexuality, I think I’m going to chalk this up to what I call the “Luther Vandross” Syndrome. (What, too soon?) Both Vandross, the crooner (R.I.P.), and Perry, the “cooner”, have been known as smooth brothas in their own right, who know how to cherish the ladies via their craft, yet never quite find themselves with the right one in their real lives, and instead make the perfect “best friend” (cough, cough, Oprah!).  While Vandross has passed on, Perry still has the chance to find that special someone, male, female, real, or make-believe.  With his string of blockbuster movies, popular plays, and hit TV shows, maybe Madea and her Big Happy Family is all he really needs.