Lionsgate // 2008 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 28th, 2008
You can't choose your family, you can only pack accordingly.
The first time I saw a Tyler Perry film, I was frustrated by what the director was doing. As I've seen more and more of his work, my frustration has slowly turned to fascination. No, I don't really care for the films he is producing any more than I did the first time. But Tyler Perry is a particularly curious media phenomenon who has managed to succeed using rather peculiar methods. The elements he uses are very familiar. However, the mixture is a brand new recipe that tastes rancid to me but somehow continues to draw massive crowds into movie theatres. Perry has achieved what many other filmmakers only dream of. Perry gets to play by his own set of rules.
Here Perry opens on a note of intimate drama. Angela Bassett (Mr. 3000) plays Brenda, a woman who has just lost her job. She is having trouble making ends meet and can't get any support from the three fathers of her three children. Things are looking bad for her, and Perry plays these opening scenes with something resembling dramatic credibility. Bassett is a very fine actress and immediately makes us feel for her plight. Then, Perry makes what seems like a terrible move. He gives Brenda a sidekick played by Sofia Vergara (Four Brothers), a Latin woman who is as unsubtle as Bassett is subtle. Vergara yells and screams through her role, and verbally attacks strangers in an incredibly off-putting manner. She belongs in an entirely different movie (one I would have to be forced to watch), and that's a sign of things to come.
Brenda receives a letter informing her that her estranged father has passed away. The letter contains bus tickets for her and her children to travel to Georgia for the funeral. Brenda accepts the invitation, and travels down to meet her new "family." They prove to be made up of a wide variety of eccentrics, played by actors who are all willing to overact to varying degrees. One of the most colorful is Leroy Brown (David Mann, House of Payne), who wears tight bright outfits that makes him look like some sort of Christmas decoration. He also speaks in a high-pitched, shrill voice that cuts through the room like a siren. He also seems to belong in an entirely different movie, as do most of the other relatives.
Set against this wacky and wildly over-the-top backdrop is a developing love story between Brenda and a charming basketball scout (played by NBA star Rick Fox). This relationship is not particularly interesting. Fox proves to be an incredibly dull character, a flawless man who is the Hallmark image of ideal marriage material. He is contrasted with Brenda's almost laughably evil ex-husband, who exists at the opposite side of the spectrum. In fact, these characters here seem very similar to the two male leads in Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which this film borrows several elements from. Still, the romantic relationship is played at a low and credible human level. Bassett and Fox speak in quiet conversational tones...you know, like real people. Contrast this with the wild dinner table scenes in which most characters shout or squawk their dialogue. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they most certainly do not mix well.
Why does a film like this work for audiences? Perry's obviously on to something, and I think I've finally pinpointed it. Today's generation can handle this kind of film. In fact, today's generation embraces this kind of film. Once upon a time, people needed a coherent story told with some sort of consistent tone. However, we now live in a world of channel surfers. People have grown accustomed to flipping between one station and another, catching bits and pieces of multiple programs at one time. I have friends who watch movies in 15-minute segments on their iPods, catching the next chapter or two whenever the urge strikes them. To me, the prospect of this seems terribly frustrating. However, a lot of people would undoubtedly disagree with me. The fact that a film like Meet the Browns can be successful is proof of that. Audiences are apparently okay with a film that switches from heartfelt drama to slapstick comedy without warning. Perry offers shallow material that is thinner than most dramas and most comedies, but he has the audacity to mix-and-match these elements in a manner that defies logic and common sense. Only time will tell how much longer this approach can work, but I imagine that Perry's fans will keep eating it up as long as he keeps serving. Oh, and also making sure that his inexplicably popular "Madea" character remains a part of the picture. Based on a few fleeting moments of drama here, I think that Perry has the ability to make a genuinely good film, but as long as his current approach works at the box office, I doubt he's going to try.
The hi-def transfer is a little bit on the grainy side, but otherwise solid. Sharp facial detail is the biggest asset visually; longer shots tend to suffer from poorly-staged cinematography. The sound features a weak mix in a few scenes. The dialogue is occasionally in competition with the sound design. The bass in a few of the songs is the only thing that's going to catch the attention of your subwoofer. On another audio note, I'm not a big fan of the score by Aaron Zigman, who shamelessly borrows from Thomas Newman at every turn.
A handful of featurettes are included on the disc. "Meet the Manns" (11 minutes) puts the spotlight on David Mann and Tamela Mann, who have been working with Perry for years. "Mr. Brown's Fashion Breakdown" (3 minutes) is a cutesy little featurette about the terrible clothes of the film's most colorful character. "Angela and Rick: Meet the Lovebirds" (7 minutes) spends its time fawning over the two leads. However, Bassett does deserve some of the generous compliments tossed around here. "The Music of Meet the Browns" (5 minutes) examines Zigman's contribution and has a nice interview with the composer. It's nice to see some behind-the-scenes footage of the score recording. "The Browns are Born: The Story of Meet the Browns" (7 minutes) tells the tale of the play's origins. "Jennifer Lewis: Unleashed" (6 minutes) is a fun little portrait of Lewis, while "Bakin' It and Shakin' It With Mr. Brown" (6 minutes) is a funny little fake cooking show with David Mann. Finally, you get a standard-def digital copy of the film.
A side note for fans of the film. You may also be interested in checking out the second volume of Tyler Perry's television show, House of Payne. It features three episodes that are directly tied into the film, spotlighting the adventures of Leroy Brown before, during, and after the story presented here. That's a very interesting approach...even more interesting than that show or this movie.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Meet the Manns"
* "Mr. Brown's Fashion Breakdown"
* "Angela and Rick: Meet the Lovebirds"
* "The Music of Meet the Browns"
* "The Browns are Born: The Story of Meet the Browns"
* "Jennifer Lewis: Unleashed"
* "Bakin' It and Shakin' It With Mr. Brown"
* Digital Copy