Between the Feebles, Fockers, Robinsons, Joe Black, and now the Browns, Judge Mancini has all the cinematic acquaintances he can handle.
Our reviews of Meet the Browns (2004) (published September 13th, 2005), Meet The Browns: Season One (published September 22nd, 2011), Meet The Browns: Season Two (published November 10th, 2011), and Meet the Browns (2008) (Blu-ray) (published July 28th, 2008) are also available.
Faith gave her hope. Fate gave her family.
By my count, Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns is Mr. Perry's 187th movie since the 2005 release of his little-film-that-could, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Okay, it's actually his fifth movie, but that's still a lot of output in three short years. If you count the slew of direct-to-DVD releases of his plays, his book, and the House of Payne television series, then it becomes clear why he slaps "Tyler Perry's" before the title of every entertainment he releases: The man's an industry unto himself.
Do you think that he's maybe sacrificing quality for quantity, though?
Facts of the Case
Brenda Brown (Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It) is a single mother of three kids living in the Chicago projects. A job layoff sends her to the end of her rope just as she receives word that the father she never knew has passed away. A trip to Atlanta for Pop's funeral introduces her to her half-siblings: responsible and stolid L.B. (Frankie Faison, The Wire) and his wife Sarah (Margaret Avery, The Color Purple); loud, eccentric, and slightly dim Leroy (David Mann, House of Payne) and his daughter Cora (Mann's wife, Tamela); and Vera (Jenifer Lewis, Cars), the spoiled and loudmouthed baby of the family.
Culture shock turns to comfort as Brenda finds a surprising peace and support among her new-found family. But her fear and suspicion of men (and their lying and cheating ways) resurfaces when her romantic feelings are stirred by a former NBA pro (one-time L.A. Laker Rick Fox, Oz) who wants to help her son realize his athletic dreams. Can Brenda overcome her troubled past and find true happiness?
Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns plays like the writer-producer-director-actor-title prefix tossed, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Boyz n the Hood, Hoop Dreams, and an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition into a blender and pressed Frappe. The results are a mostly noxious concoction of melodrama, comedy, gooey social commentary, cliché, stereotype, and predictability with isolated pockets of tasty laughs.
Whatever its faults (and it has many), Meet the Browns had me laughing out loud through at least two entire scenes. The first was a rowdy dinner conversation in which some hard truths about the dearly departed Pop Brown are revealed. I won't spoil the revelation, but Perry structures the scene so that it builds to precipitous comic heights. The characters' reactions are hysterical. The second was Pop's funeral church service, where Vera puts on an epic display of keening grief and Leroy filibusters with an endless and circular Southern Baptist eulogy that drives L.B. to his wit's end.
As a writer, Perry's strength is drafting big scenes with lots of characters interacting at a meal or other social event. His ear for language, cadence, and culture is impeccable when his characters are immersed in layered, loud, and complex group interactions. His dinner table scenes have a healthy dose of earthy realism along with the sort of explosive laughs you'd find in a grade-A Eddie Murphy flick (only without the dick and fart jokes or Murphy's self-indulgent need to play every character at the table).
Unfortunately, Perry proves less capable when penning moments of drama between two or three characters—at least as far as the drama in Meet the Browns is concerned. When writing dialogue and situations apropos of middle class African-Americans, he's in his element, writing what he knows. The biting poverty and inner city ghetto life at the center of Brenda's story come off as foreign to Perry, and false—or at least sanitized for a de rigueur happy ending and a PG-13 rating. The characters' various slides into desperation or drug dealing lack the sort of precise observed detail to make them convincing. Angela Bassett is too polished, pretty, and well-dressed for us to believe her straits have become so dire that her children are going to bed hungry at night.
The conflicts Perry's characters face and the resolutions they discover are built on the same sort of pop psycho-babble and self-help/self-actualization platitudes on which Oprah Winfrey built her formidable empire. It comes as no surprise, then, that Winfrey's on-air cheerleading was an early inspiration for Perry or that she's become his biggest booster since he began to accumulate success as an off-Broadway playwright. There's nothing wrong with any of that, except that Perry (at least in Meet the Browns) grasps at profundity that is beyond his reach. In the process, he sacrifices his own talent for well-executed broad comedy merged with an authentic depiction of the middle class African-American experience.
As a Two-Disc Special Edition, this release is lacking. In addition to the film—solidly presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphically-enhanced transfer—Disc One contains four electronic press kit-style featurettes (one making-of, and three that discuss members of the film's cast). The only supplement on Disc Two is a digital copy of the movie that can be downloaded onto your computer and unlocked with a key included in the keep case. Sure, there are two discs, but the release barely qualifies as a special edition.
By trying to be more than it can be, Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns ends up being less than it ought to be.
Guilty as charged.
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