Madea's Family Reunion review (DVD)

The sequel to Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Tyler Perry's first film, Madea's Family Reunion marked his debut as a director. Following Diary's huge $50 million success at the US box office on a modest $5 million budget, Lionsgate quickly signed Perry to a seven-picture deal that included all of the films in the Madea universe, the film-maker's most famous character. So, taking on the roles of director, writer, producer, musician and actor, is Madea's Family Reunion a superior sequel under Perry's vision, or a creative setback?

It's somewhere in between. While Perry's direction is confident and performances are strong, the majority of the film's issues are with the script. Unlike Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which struggled to find its identity by bluntly combining very silly humour with serious drama, the follow-up, while still prominently featuring both, finds somewhat of a balance, though still suffers from sudden and rather mad shifts in tone. It's almost like Tyler Perry wanted to rewrite Diary from scratch down the line and came up with this film, as it follows a similar plot. Reunion counters Diary's adulterer with a psychically abusive husband, but the movie instead takes this problem and spreads it out with two other intertwining stories that are almost too major to coexist in the same film.

Trapped in the tyrannical relationship with a rich investment banker, a young woman looks to her sister for advice when their marriage is on the horizon. Soon enough Madea (without the handgun this time) becomes involved and offers up her own confrontational assistance, all while fostering a teenage girl at the order of a judge for breaking her house arrest that she went down for in Diary. Meanwhile, the sister, filled with the hurt of two previous relationships gone bad, finds happiness with a handsome bus driver.

Just like in Tyler's first film though, the nice guy is a little too perfect to be believable, which is one of the many problems the picture has. I'm sure legions of viewers will no doubt note that the film doesn't contain a single non-African American individual and thus is politically incorrect, but these days that's not necessarily a bad thing in my eyes. Also, Madea doesn't in fact actually have much of a place in the story. The character is in many scenes, but the only real reason why she's there, apart from trying to console her troubled relative, is because of the whole fostering angle, which never really takes form and goes anywhere. Madea essentially holds the entire film together like glue, being that all the issues raised happen in her own family, but you could strip her away and still have a coherent, stand alone movie.

Madea's Family Reunion may as well be a remake of Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but it's certainly an improved upon effort. It's a little preachy at times with its strong Christian and faith-related themes, but that aside it's an enjoyable piece and ticks all the boxes to keep it in sync with the auteurial voice of a Tyler Perry production.

EXTRAS ??? The Making of Madea's Family Reunion; Marriage Madea Style: shooting the elaborate wedding scene; Gaither Plantation: filming on the historic plantation, which housed 100 slaves in the 1600s; Making the Music; four deleted scenes; and a feature-length commentary by Tyler Perry.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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