Now say what you want about Tyler Perry, but you have to admit his movies bank, and for damn good reasons, to boot. I may not be a fan and in many ways Madea is a rip off of Vicki Lewis’ Mama, but he’s one of the few men in Hollywood who portrays the African American lifestyle with truth, realism, and dignity, while also making his films openly accessible to everyone in spite of the Christian overtones he injects. Perry’s comedy may not be my range of taste, but you have to respect what he does.
“Meet the Browns” is a healthy amount of Capra’s optimism, Spike Lee’s dignity, and a hint of social commentary to provide one of the most entertaining experiences I’ve had watching something from Perry. Though it does definitely get creaky and preachy in the final half, it excels thanks to Perry’s tight writing and well explored characters. Angela Bassett gives an excellent performance as working mom Brenda who struggles to get by everyday of her life with her supportive son and two daughters close behind her watching her break her back to feed them.
After losing her job at her plant, desperation and poverty sink in and she travels to Georgia with her children to attend the funeral of the father she never knew. Brenda finds herself at a crossroads when she struggles to connect with the father she never knew while coming face to face with his eccentric relatives, all of whom Perry pulls great performances from. I mean, when you can get a good performance from Sofia Vergara, that just deserves a pat on the back and a muffin basket. When we meet the Browns is when the film picks up at a brisk pace.
Jenifer Lewis almost runs away with the film as the territorial Vera who dislikes Brenda upon meeting her and dominates the Brown family through her dramatics, while Franky Faison is the long suffering Patriarch of the family L.B. who is never afraid to punish the others for making fools of themselves, take a hysterical incident at a burial, and inevitably reveals secrets about their beloved father that leads to the banner scene of the film at the dinner table. David Mann is the typical loud uncle of the brood, Leroy Brown who is a character in his own right and is thankfully never over the top.
Perry accentuates the eccentricities of the family to where they’re constantly a source of comedy, but gladly never lets them bring the film over the top, nor does he bother resorting to African American stereotypes. Even Leroy, who is somewhat of a clown, is still a very likable character deep down. The comedy is often times very subtle with a reliance on the skills of the seasoned cast to deliver the sharp dialogue and believable chemistry. The story of self discovery through Brenda and her dutiful son makes for the humanistic side of “Meet the Browns” and Perry has a knack for making every one of his characters, no matter how cliché, sympathetic and charming.
While “Meet the Browns” does take a preachy direction in the final half (Drugs are bad, drug dealers are evil, the streets are dangerous, wowee!), it’s otherwise a fulfilling experience with all around great performances with some raucous laughs to be had. Though I wouldn’t call myself a Perry fan, “Meet the Browns” convinces me to keep my mind open to his other works.