Yesterday I saw my first Tyler Perry movie, and took great pleasure in this completely whacked-out hybrid of a thing. Madea's Family Reunion ends with a wedding in which a Christian couple is united while Maya Angelou reads a poem,people dressed as angels hang from the rafters, a guy who beats up women gets a pot of hot grits thrown in his face, and a black drag queen celebrates the church, Jesus, revenge, discipline and matrimony. HOW Perry manages to throw all those elements into the pot is beyond me; the wildly varying tones ought to wrench the whole thing into incoherence, but somehow it just remains so delicious. And all those mesmerizingly beautiful guys! It's as if Perry puts everything he enjoys (suffering but brave women, muscular and soulful men, righteous old church ladies, uplifting messages about the family, and drag comedy) all in one place, and therefore accomplishes an impossible reconciliation: the upright black family, with its emphasis on unity and moral uplift, is on the same stage with the camp comedy of a wild drag queen and a whole lot of sexiness. And I haven't even talked about the playful reclamation of stereotype! I'm in awe.
The only thing is, I also watched an interview with the writer/director/filmmaker/performer, and it was a little alarming to see how deeply he professes his Christianity, and how much pressure he seems to feel as a public figure.He talked about his own abusive father, which brings into focus the fact that the film both makes abuse a criminal reality (with the hot grits man) and a source of comedy (Madea is always grabbing some miscreant kid and wailing away). Like the relationship between Perry viewing the world in terms of the "saved" and the fallen while still dancing onscreen in huge false breasts and butt under a huge purple dress, this feels bizarrely incoherent. And yet he has this area of safety, in the films: a chaotic, contradictory, multitude-containing stage that I bet Shakespeare would have loved. Go figure.