'A Madea Family Funeral' (2019) Review: The Final Installment of the Madea Franchise
By: Steve Pulaski
My relationship with Tyler Perry's much beloved and criticized Madea character has been a rocky one. Since the loud-mouthed, gun-toting granny made her leap from the stage, where she endured a successful run in the late 90s and early aughts, to the big-screen in 2005, I've looked on at the barrage of films with her in the title as movies made for a specific crowd of people: those who have someone like Madea in their lives. I'd argue that even if you do have a Madea in your life, the product on the screen paying homage to her should be a lot funnier, however, the lack of polish and homey nature of her litany of films provides audiences with an unassuming window to glance in and observe characters in a world where morality rings true, even when an ass needs whooped.
A Madea Family Funeral is the eleventh and final installment in the hot mess express that is the "Madea" franchise, and it's a fitting conclusion. So few franchises are this consistently good at being so consistently bad, and Tyler Perry has nursed this baby out of the crib, to the bank, and back. I would've liked to believe that Perry was gearing up to give us something special and memorable for Madea's swan-song, but unfortunately, it's a send-off that's plagued by awful writing, drearily low production values, and some of the worst melodrama Perry has conceived outside of the atrocity that was Temptation.
The film opens on a barrage of new faces we never get to know as more than just names. They are part of a large family, planning a 40th anniversary party for their parents, Vianne (Jen Harper) and Anthony (Derek Morgan), and en route to the party are Madea, Joe (both played by Perry), Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely), all being driven by Joe's son Brian (Perry, again). When Madea and all arrive at their hotel, they're stunned to see that Anthony has had a heart attack while having sex with Renee (Quin Walters), a friend of the family. The planned anniversary party then turns into an impending funeral, as the whole family is already together, but this close, grief-filled time together is the lubrication for old sexual history and infidelities to be divulged amongst the family members. For a while, the family tries to keep the circumstances of Anthony's passing a secret from their loyal matriarch, but they can't help but have their own sins come to the surface — before and after what could very well be one of the longest funerals ever.
There's also a new character played by Perry (why introduce a new member of the Madea posse when you allegedly do not plan on making any more films?), whose name is Heathrow. He's a jerry curl-rocking, wheelchair bound "veteran" with two amputated legs, who speaks through an electronic trachea ring thanks to chronic smoking all through his adult lie. Heathrow does earn some laughs over the course of the film. He's amusing in moments that allow him to be a part of the camaraderie and not stand out with a one-note aside, as he does in a moment where he's trying to protect a cake with suggestive art on it.
It's become common for Tyler Perry projects — particularly "Madea"-related ones— to feel like two distinctly different movies tonally and structurally. The uneven blending of mawkish sentiment and mildly vulgar humor from loose-lipped geezers has never been a hybridization that works well despite Perry's resilience. In A Madea Family Funeral, the amalgamation appears even more dysfunctional given that the characters Perry introduces us to leave little impression because they aren't at all developed. I was quietly hoping Perry would bring back familiar faces from previous installments. It would've been nice to touch base with Kimberly Elise's Helen McCarter from Diary of a Mad Black Woman or Anna Maria Horsford's Eileen from A Madea Christmas. Instead, we commemorate Madea's final film with an array of nobodies that lack any all characteristics other than mostly being loathsome, self-absorbed individuals.
Perry is known to improvise the scenes involving Madea and company, and that has never been more readily apparent than it has been in A Madea Family Funeral. While admittedly earning a few chuckles along the way, scenes involving the four elders can sometimes drag on almost to unbearable length. There is a sequence dramatizing police brutality with no explanation or resolution despite building for over five minutes, and redundant, prolonged encounters between Madea, Bam, and a grieving Vianne that do little besides pad the runtime. Joe is a little bit more tolerable of a character than he was in Boo 2!, for one, and Bam is still effortlessly likable, but Madea is as hit and miss with her comic zest as she ever was and Hattie is still one of the most repugnant and unfunny characters in film I can remember. Of course Perry gives her substantial screentime.
Alas, A Madea Family Funeral doesn't work, and it belongs in the lower tier of "Madea" films, down there withMadea's Witness Protection and the aforementioned Boo 2! What a shame too, given that this conclusion should've seen Perry try a little harder to bid farewell to the character that has afforded him such a successful career. But yet again, Perry took the easy way out in conceiving a terribly underwritten screenplay, shooting it in less than a week, giving it a backburner editing job, and then spitting into multiplexes. The positive I can see from the credits rolling on Madea, however, is that perhaps this will free up Perry to produce more comedies and dramas. I would much rather see someone like Perry — who has talent, don't get mistaken — and his valuable time produce more films like Acrimony and far, far less like the onslaught of atrocious "Madea" pictures we've gotten over the last decade and a half.