Lionsgate // 2004 // 139 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // September 13th, 2005
Once you've met them, you won't forget them.
When 107-year-old "Pops" Brown dies, the rest of the Brown clan
gather together for the funeral. As the old man's caregivers for the last 11
years, L.B. and Sarah are left attending to the funeral arrangements. Luckily,
they have a well-off divorced daughter, Mil-lay, to help out. Other brother
Leroy has brought along his daughter, Cora, to meet and greet her kinfolk. He
has just recently discovered his connection to the grown woman, who's the child
of his next-door neighbor, Mabel "Madea" Simmons. Sister Vera comes
along with her son and daughter-in-law. A heavy drinker, Vera is seen as the
troublemaker in the family. But her son is a doctor, something the entire clan
is very proud of. Naturally, when they all get together, family secrets are
spilled and old emotions bubble to the surface. It will take more than a church
service to clear the air and set things right. That's what happens when you
Meet the Browns.
Meet the Browns is one of the few Tyler Perry productions in which
the talented writer/director/producer/actor does not appear. Madea is not here,
nor is any of the other personas the gifted comic performer frequently plays.
Instead, this is a solid showcase for two of Perry's most dedicated company
members -- David and Tamela Mann. David is better known as Brown, the
irritatingly upbeat (and nosy) neighbor of Mabel "Madea" Simmons.
Tamela is also well known for her role as Cora, Madea's widowed daughter.
Throughout Madea's various reunions and gatherings, Brown has always played the
fool, the tackily-dressed dunce who becomes the butt of many of Madea's best
jokes. Cora, on the other hand, is the rock, the "saved by the Lord"
lady who simply wants to worship, love, and enjoy her family. How a Simmons and
a Brown end up in the same story is a spoiler for another DVD (hint: the answer
comes at the last two minutes of Madea's Class Reunion -- and is replayed
at the start of this show).
The best way to look at Meet the Browns is like a spin-off, a Good Times to the rest of Tyler Perry's All in the Family-like pro-church classics. Working with a bigger, more expansive canvas this time around, Perry provides some superb insights into the black experience. L.B. and Sarah are seen as simple, proud, and underprivileged, but they never let that fact detract from their good nature and passionate faith. Most of the Brown children are successful, and Perry makes sure to point out that, with financial opportunities and security, comes a great deal of personal sacrifice and issues just as compelling as poverty. Oddly, this play doesn't contain a lot of the stereotyping associated with Perry's work. Without Madea around to provide such pigeonholing, there is much more of an authentic, realistic feel. Don't be mistaken, though. As with all his production, Perry is presenting his own version of The Word spiked with wit. And since these are go-for-broke theatrical experiences masquerading as meaningful, there's a lot more hullabaloo than heartache.
As skilled as Perry is at making Madea come to life, David Mann delivers an equally electric performance here as Leroy Brown, the put-upon simpleton with the shaky fashion sense. He is so genial, so genuine in his love of God and his exuberance over His glory that you suspect he'll burst at any moment. Though he's a "round" man (fat is not really a word that applies), Mann is incredibly nimble, light on his feet and deft at physical shtick. You feel like you're watching a superstar of the silent era the way he works his body. Proving himself a true triple threat, David also sings like an angel -- or a burnt-out bluesman, whatever the song requires. His voice is the very definition of heavenly, and when required to bring down the house, he leaves nary a shingle unshaken. The rest of the cast is equally adept. While some of the younger men are obviously on hand to provide a little R Kelly-style bump-and-grind for the females in the crowd, the actresses waste no time standing up and out for themselves. Sure, they all have octave ranges that defy convention and run the scales like they've forgotten where the actual melody resides, but this is exactly what the audience expects and wants...and they eat it up.
Aside from the lack of Madea, the only other problem with Meet the Browns is its baffling final act. Once we get to the actual funeral, something goes screwy with the storyline. Suddenly, all the elements we expect -- excess of emotions, family flare-ups, and inappropriate behavior -- are replaced by a rambling, ridiculous monologue/sequence of St. Vitus Dance by David Mann. Taking center stage in a caped outfit that makes no sense (and that's saying a lot for a style disaster like Brown), it may be Perry's attempt at mocking those who "get the spirit" and "speak in the tongues of God." But as it plays, it's like a lounge act that's long gone stale and scattered. Beside, the show really doesn't end on a proper narrative note. Instead, a song about family ties up the story without settling a thing -- except the importance of loved ones.
Still, you have to give Perry credit. With such a recognizable icon as Madea to carry his other shows, it must have been nerve-racking to see if his writing style and sense of humor would translate over into an ensemble setting. Luckily it does. Meet the Browns is a fun, farcical experience in typical interpersonal dysfunction. It finds an entertaining way to meld religion to ridiculousness without lessening either, and it strikes occasional chords of familiarity with its family fracas concept. Tyler Perry is often taken to task for providing cheap, unchallenging works that depend on cultural quirks to sell their shallow sentiments. But the truth is that Perry understands his audience better than anyone else currently working in urban theater. He provides exactly what his fans want, a little of what he thinks they need, and some ancillary amusement from the crackerjack casts he employs. For two-thirds of its run, Meet the Browns is good-natured and enjoyable. Only towards the end do we feel like Perry and his cast went overboard...and overbroad.
As with the Madea DVDs, we are dealing with a videotaped play that makes the big mistake of eliminating most audience interaction in the show. In all other ways, however, Lions Gate treats Perry's presentation with care and consideration. Even though this is a taped performance, the 1.33:1 full frame image is sharp and clear. With its excellent camera angles, framing, and composition, the transfer treats the home theater crowd to a view the live audience could only have hoped for. Equally important is the translation of the music, and it has to be said, it is near perfect. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soars with Gospel greatness.
As for bonus features, the DVD is outfitted with a Tyler Perry introduction (all of 11 seconds long), a Behind the Scenes and Outtakes featurette (25 minutes of cast interviews, general foolishness, and the occasional onstage screw-up) and a Selected Scene Commentary track. Perry gives us his reasons for making a Madea-less play, and is very informative about what it takes to put on one of these productions, but the sparseness of the content makes it a real disappointment. The photo gallery is nice, and the trailers clue us in on the other Perry titles waiting to be explored. While it could have been much more, considering Perry's current stardom, this is a decent digital package. Besides, as Shakespeare said, the play's the thing.
Toward the end of the credits, Perry steps out from the sidelines and announces that, despite his current reign in Hollywood (Madea's Family Reunion is currently in production as a major motion picture), he will be returning to the stage in a sure-fire firecracker called...Madea Goes to Jail. The crowd responds in exaltations and excitement. It proves that Tyler Perry can do no wrong. Something like Meet the Browns manages to resonate, even without the wisecracking woman who made Perry a near-household word. One viewing of this DVD and you will start to see why.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Tyler Perry Introduction
* Behind the Scenes and Outtake Featurette
* Selected Scene Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Tyler Perry
* Photo Gallery
* IMDb: Tamela Mann
* Tyler Perry Official Site
* Meet the Browns Page on the Tyler Perry Official Site