Expect to cry watching "Madea's Family Reunion," those wonderful uncontrollable tears that flow when you're laughing so hard, it's all your body can do to let it all out.
Anyone familiar with Madea knows that the hilarious, plus-sized grandmotherly figure created for the stage by the multitalented Tyler Perry, will always leave you in stitches. Plus, the movie's previews elicit giggles as Madea is shown hitting people with her purse, jumping over seats to get at misbehaving children and spewing her hilarious words of wisdom.
But this movie is much more than a fun time at a family reunion. Perry is an actor, writer, producer and director of stage and screen who is known for multilayered work that puts viewers on an emotional roller coaster much like the one we travel every day in life.
So with the laughter comes the pain of domestic violence, child abuse, drug addiction and poverty -- everything that Perry either experienced or saw others suffering from while growing up.
Madea (a Southern term for mother dear) made her film debut in last year's surprise hit "Diary of a Mad Blackwoman" and returns here with the same larger-than-life personality and no-holds-barred mouth fans adore.
As in "Diary," she is again one of three roles played by Perry. In the first movie, Madea helped Helen, an abused wife, find the strength to start over. This time, Perry ambitiously tells the story of two women, Madea's nieces, who are facing their own demons, as well as a third plot line about Madea taking in a troubled teen as a foster child.
The film jumps between the story of the beautiful and privileged Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) who is being beaten by her fiancee (played against type by Blair Underwood) and her hardworking sister, Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), a single mother of two. Complicating matters is their gold-digging mother, Victoria (Lynne Whitfield), who has used her daughters to give herself a comfortable life.
Once the movie finally heads to the family reunion, two cameo appearances steal the show from Madea (something nearly impossible to do). Sitting around the family table are the great Maya Angelou, who offers words of great comfort and wisdom, and Cicely Tyson, who gives an Oscar-worthy speech about the importance of family.
Perry always treads an emotional tightrope in the way he takes audiences from manic highs and lows, but it's always worked before. This time, it's too much as the three stories feel like different films. It could be because the editing isn't crisp and tends to hold shots for much too long, or it could be that Perry has taken on too much in also directing this film.
But even if "Madea's Family Reunion" is flawed, it is still a powerful and important movie. When Victoria blames her daughter for being a victim of domestic violence saying, "You must stop doing what you're doing to make him angry," you can literally feel the outrage in the audience. It's a reaction Perry surely wanted.
Perry creates empowering stories of redemption and hope, making those tears of laughter also turn to tears of pain, sorrow and ultimately joy. For him, success isn't measured in box office dollars but in how many lives he can change. In those terms, "Madea's Family Reunion" is another Tyler Perry success.
"Madea's Family Reunion"
Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, domestic violence, sex and drug references. Now playing in area theaters.