Madea's Family Reunion [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (10th June 2011).
The Film

After the success of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005) Tyler Perry took one step closer to having carte blanche in producing and filming almost any movie he wanted to make. I’ve raved before about the profitability of horror movies and horror sequels, but “Diary” and its sequel “Madeas Family Reunion” (2006) would make the “Saw” series (2004-2010) blush. “Diary” ten-tupled it’s money, making $50 million off of a $5 million budget and “Reunion” followed suit with $60 million from a $6 million budget. That’s just box office gross. That’s so much money that I had to invent “ten-tuple” because there’s no –tuple big enough to say how much money that is.

But the similarity between these tuple formulas is no mistake, it mirrors the similarities in plot. Much like “Diary,” “Madea’s Family Reunion” takes the same narrative but shares the plot between a few different characters. This time it’s Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) who’s married to the abusive man, another wealthy dark skinned man who seems caring in public but beats her in private. Unfortunately her mother Victoria (Lynn Whitfield) encourages her daughter to stay in the relationship, because her husband is wealthy. Lisa’s half-sister Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) is still recovering from a past relationship and is staying with their great-aunt Madea (Tyler Perry), who, after violating house arrest, is forced to become a foster mother by the judge. With each family member going through some struggles, the extended Simmons family prepares to get together for a family reunion out in the country.

And just like we return to the same plots, there are the same tropes and stereotypes. The evil dark skinned black man who abuses his wife, with the sensitive, Christian light skinned black man who does nothing but treat women right all the time. I’ve already covered the problems, but seeing them recur makes me think it’s something that runs deeper with Perry. What’s new is the introduction of the black female villain in Victoria, who not only encourages her daughter to stay in an abusive relationship for the money, but is dependant on that income as well. Still, the portrayal of wealthy blacks is reduced to people who have lost their sense of community and rememberance of the past, making them the evil villians. Victoria introduces a slight complication as she never seems to have cared for her past or roots, but instead has always been drawn to the wealth, going so far as allowing her daughter Vanessa to be raped by her second husband (Lisa’s father) when Vanessa was a child.

Underneath the cast of black women main characters is a twisted feminism wrapped in patriarchy masked by Christianity. Women in the film are largely made for men, through god’s influence. Religious ideologies aside and given, Perry again gives a mixed message though as the womanizing, comedic relief Joe seems to give moments of objectifying women with sexist slights that make up a large portion of the comedy at the family reunion, but when it comes for the statement/message segment of the film it’s the black women who are criticized for dancing and dressing scantily. Interesting still is how much the traditional relationships and roles of men and women are reinforced by a man in drag. There may be more there, but we’ll see in the next Movie.

Social commentary and criticism aside, the film is an improvement over “Diary” in terms of structure. Even though the plots are largely the same, it’s better to split the characteristics and relationships between characters, making for a more engaging dynamic, even if it is a similar line. Madea definitely takes more of a center stage in the movie, in her role as foster mother and putting together the family reunion, but none of the characters from the first film, other than Perry’s various roles, make appearances. Just in terms of storytelling “Reunion” is more effective by removing the diary format, keeping away from the long expositions of the first movie. There’s even a couple of funny jokes in the movie and some unintentional comedy when Perry plays basketball as Brian.

This is the first time that Perry takes up the director’s chair and there’s not a huge difference in the visual style of the films. Lots of fixed-point shots and a few tracking shots mixed in for good measure keep things basic but mostly achieve what Perry aims for. It has the definitely look and feel of a stage show in the blocking of actors and sets. Perry’s directing talent matches his writing style and experience as a stage actor, but seems like he doesn’t have a feel of how to move the camera and shift the focus to create his own visual style, keeping to regular coverage and flashes of important icons and landscapes to set a scene.

Overall it’s a slight improvement over “Diary” as Perry seems to have more of a handle on putting together the black romantic comedy/family movie fusion into a more palatable mix with the addition of the family reunion. Parts of its message are far more direct, namely the long speech told at the family reunion by the elder women of the family, but this time around he has a better grasp on the subtleties of the relationships. Even if there are some very blunt statements on character traits or personality. Even still, the actors again hold to the script and keep their performances on the brink of dramatic and melodramatic, with a surprising cameo by Maya Angelou making for the best performance of the film. However in the credits Perry does one of the most spot-on Michael Jackson impersonations I’ve ever seen, but I wouldn’t say watch the whole movie for it.

Video

The film is presented in a 1080p 24/fps transfer with AVC MPEG-4 encoding in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is incredibly crisp and vibrant in the light, but the blue tinges at night take on an inordinate amount of grain. Still the daytime scenes are lit like a stage, and it looks nice on Blu-ray keeping the cool tans of the backgrounds and the heavy purple colorscheme intact. For a $6 million budget they use the visuals well and manage to keep the film looking in nice quality, even the makeup jobs on Perry as Joe or Madea look much better under the scrutiny of high definition.

Audio

Like the video the audio does well in the high definition version with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, and it comes through clearly and moves fairly well, but with the very functional stage style directing of Perry the sound doesn’t quite need to move to take full advantage of the audio mix. Still the balance of the dialogue and rest of the audio is fairly good, but the ambient noises are mostly non-existent, only happening when it matter to the movement of the story or scene. It’s a very crisp, clear mix, but like I said earlier relatively plain.
There’s also a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, with optional English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

The special features in the film are fairly robust, including an audio commentary, a collection of featurettes, a series of deleted scenes and a bonus trailer Below is a closer look.

First up is the audio commentary track with Tyler Perry, where he spends a good deal of time discussing the adlibbing and making of the movie. There are more gaps in this commentary than his previous versions, likely due to exhaustion from doing so much for the movie. He talks about some of the tough decisions he had to make in the film and putting together the script, speaking in conversation between his different incarnations. He makes an interesting point that he isn’t trying to preach in the movie, when for me so much of the movie is preachy in it’s religious and relational views.

The first major featurette is “The Making of Madea’s Family Reunion” that runs for 22 minutes and 5 seconds. It’s unfortunately presented in standard definition, including a good deal of behind-the-scenes footage and talking head interviews that both discuss the intricacies of the film and wax philosophic on some of the issues raised, like domestic violence. Maya Angelou of course makes some great statements about the film and being able to speak to the dynamics of the film, but it can border on self-importance at times in emphasizing the role of the film in sparking discussions.

“Marriage Madea Style” runs for 7 minutes and 33 seconds. This featurette explores the climactic wedding scene of the film, with lots of behind the scenes footage in putting together the wedding, keeping Perry in character as Madea and Joe, craking jokes about the wedding. Meanwhile there are interviews with production designer Ina Mayhew and Perry working on putting together the super scale wedding scene on a budget.

“Gaither Plantation” featurette runs for 4 minutes and 21 seconds, dealing with the filming of the family reunion on the plantation, each of the actors discusses the sense of history being on the plantation, with glimpses of Maya Angelou’s speech that got cut down, as well as how the Cicely Tyson speech (and Angelou’s cut speech) were largely improvised.

“Making the Music” featurette runs for 5 minutes and 4 seconds, showing behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals and what music Perry selected and wrote for the film, discussing Perry’s talent and role in the process. Actors and crew discuss Perry’s use of music in the film and what effect that has on them in production and in the final product.

“Madea Mania” featurette runs for 7 minutes and 6 seconds, each of the actors speak about Madea as a real person on the set and her attitude and behavior. It’s generally a lot of improving about Madea and Joe, with a lot of Perry in full makeup and character.

“From Stage to Screen” featurette runs for 4 minutes and 55 seconds. This featurette juxtaposes the script from the stage and converting it to the film. Actors talk about seeing the play and how Perry and his troupe command an audience, as well as the influence of the stage shows.

“Transforming Tyler” featurette runs for 3 minutes and 16 seconds, this brief clip just sits through a makeup session with Perry as he sits for being made up to look like Madea, putting on eye shadow, concealing his beard and applying the wig. There’s also a brief discussion with Bill Johnson on the prosthetics that they apply to Perry to make him Joe.

Next is the photo gallery that contains 20 images, mostly behind the scenes, with a few set photos mixed in.

Finally are the 12 deleted scenes, described below. A lot of the scenes are out of order from the film, giving a backstory to Issac that wasn’t present in the film but is hard to decipher from the way it’s ordered on the disc:

- “Victoria Tells Lisa Go Back to Carlos” runs for 1 minute and 34 seconds. Victoria comes to Madea’s home and tells her to that Carlos is in therapy, and was just kidding around.
- “Issac and His Father Talk” runs for 2 minutes and 48 seconds. Issac sees his father at the family reunion, they have a minor confrontation about their relationship and Issac’s father apologizes.
- “Frankie Shows Vanessa His Apartment” runs for 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Vanessa comes back to Issac’s after ice cream and they talk about his art.
- “Frankie Calls Vanessa and Wants to Start Over” runs for 2 minutes and 29 seconds. After Vanessa’s reaction to Frankie earlier, they have a serious discussion about their relationship and eachother over the phone.
- “Victoria and Lisa Enter Bridal Shop” runs for 49 seconds. The two walk into the bridal shop and meet with Vanessa and the wedding planner.
- “Issac Visits Donna at Work” runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds. Issac comes to talk to Donna about their relationship.
- “Issac and Donna Donna Decide to Not to Sell the House” runs for 5 minutes and 28 seconds. Brian and Issac discuss the selling price of the house and the family reunion.
- “Frankie Throws Rocks at Vanessa’s Window” runs for 2 minutes and 35 seconds, Frankie plays romantic to Vanessa to get her to come out to ice cream.
- “Madea Shows Nikki Her Room” runs for 2 minutes and 1 second. Madea shows Nikki to her new room, they argue about a dress.
- “Vanessa Nervous About Date With Frankie “ runs for 1 minute and 55 seconds. Madea talks Frankie with Vanessa, telling her to invite him to the family reunion.
- “Madea Tells Storry About Jimmy Hoffa/Grit Ball” runs for 2 minutes and 21 seconds. It’s an alternate version of the scene in the film where Madea gives her solution to an abusive husband.
- “Bridal Shop Angels” runs for 5 minutes and 13 seconds. Victoria, Vanessa and Lisa audition singers for the wedding; Victoria speaks with Carlos in private while Lisa sets Victoria up with Frankie.

The only bonus trailer on the disc is:

- “Tyler Perry on Blu-ray” runs for 53 seconds.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: D Overall: C

 


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