Monday, December 16, 2013

Movie Review - Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas

Kathy Najimy (left) and Larry the Cable Guy
in Tyler Perry's "A Madea Christmas
This might be the funniest movie that Tyler Perry has done. This also might be the most interesting. Yes, it hits a lot of the same beats and plays on a lot of the same themes as previous Tyler Perry films, but the problem with a lot of the other Tyler Perry films is that Tyler Perry would enter a scene as his character Madea, the loud-mouth, simple-minded, aggressively-honest, gun-toting, man-sized grandma, and Madea would suck all the oxygen out the room, able to get cheap laughs but would run ramshackle over the other characters and often the plot.

This movie differs because at last Perry counter-balances the force of Madea with a character who can match her loud-mouth, simple-minded, aggressively-honest and often sexual verbosity, and that character is Buddy Williams, played by comedian Larry the Cable Guy. Perry isn't a standup comic but he's become a bonafide comedian on his own right and watching him trade shots, able to do improvisation, with Larry the Cable Guy was hilarious but letting Larry fly free was just as funny and righted the see-saw a bit.

There is a bit of a long lead-up to Buddy's introduction. First thing we get is the typical Madea antics when her niece Eileen, played by Anna Maria Horsford, gets her a Christmas job working at a department store, not unlike Macy's. Of course, Madea throws shade or insults as well as easily gets an angry attitude with every person she encounters. Her behavior warrants rudeness, but rudeness is something of which she's intolerant.

Meanwhile, in the small town of Bucktossle, Alabama, Eileen's daughter, Lacey, played by Tika Sumpter (Sparkle and What's Your Number), works as a teacher at a small institution. Her school is organizing the Christmas Jubilee, the town's annual Christmas celebration. Except, the Mayor regretfully informs the school's principal that due to city budget cuts, the Jubilee is going to be cancelled. Once the parents find out, they come to the principal's office and unleash fury.

How Lacey deals with this Jubilee situation is one half of the story. Immediately, what sets the movie apart and above all his others is that finally he does a narrative that isn't about black women being abused, mistreated or stereotypical in either direction.

Lacey isn't a woe-is-me or an overly angry character, as Perry tends to write. Lacey might just be the most mature, black female character Perry has ever written and Sumpter plays her perfectly. Sumpter co-starred in Perry's cable soap opera The Haves and Have Nots, and gone here is the melodrama and at time stilted nature. There's a more grounded feeling here in general. Even when Madea is saying juvenile and ridiculous things, this movie still feels more down-to-earth than any of his other Madea movies.

This movie is also more winsome than Perry's previous because it was funnier, if not the funniest movie Tyler Perry has done. What helps is that the Madea character isn't actively working against the protagonist. Usually, Perry has Madea at odds with the protagonist or he'll have Madea constantly preaching or trying to discipline or plainly scold the protagonist. Here, it could be argued that Madea is fighting along side Lacey.

Perry also lets loose when he's playing Madea. For some reason, this character allows him to be wild and free, to say and do what he wants in the guise of Madea. Most often here, it's a laugh riot. It's one-liners that are often sexual innuendo or threats of violence. Some go a little too far, but Perry manages to steer things back in good timing.

Larry the Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy who plays his character's wife, Kim, are funny as well. They are much-needed energy who enter this movie and make it that much greater. They for the most part steal the show.

A rivalry that develops between the main characters and another guy named Tanner, played by Chad Michael Murray (Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill), could have been fleshed out more. Perry was trying to make a point about bullying, but things get rather clunky and awkward. Other social issues that Perry incorporates is reverse racism and the so-called War on Christmas, but, as one of two, YouTube stars who shows up in this movie would say, Perry ain't got no time for that. Those issues aren't really explored.

All of that can be forgiven because ultimately the comedy drew a lot of laughs. Anytime Madea had to curb Eileen's enthusiasm was good. Madea telling a hip hop version of the Nativity story was hilarious. Buddy and Kim first meeting their son, Connor, played by Eric Lively, at the farmhouse where everyone comes to stay is a scene I could watch over and over.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sexual references, crude humor and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.

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