Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DVD Views: Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail

Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail **
Directed by:
Tyler Perry.
Written By: Tyler Perry.
Starring: Tyler Perry (Madea / Joe / Brian), Derek Luke (Joshua Hardaway), Keshia Knight Pulliam (Candace Washington), David Mann (Brown), Tamela J. Mann (Cora), RonReaco Lee (Chuck), Ion Overman (Linda), Vanessa Ferlito (Donna), Viola Davis (Ellen), Sofía Vergara (T.T.), Robin Coleman (Big Sal), Bobbi Baker (Tanya), Aisha Hinds (D.A. Fran Walker), Benjamín Benítez (Arthur).

I know that there are a lot of people out there who like Tyler Perry. Good for them. Perry serves a niche marker in the film world that is almost completely ignored by everyone else. His films mix comedy and drama together, and end up inspiring the best in us all, even if the characters are almost always Southern, African American Christians. People love Tyler Perry, even if the mainstream media seems content to ignore him most of the time. So while I have to admit that Perry serves his target audience well, I also have to admit that I’m not a part of his target audience, and I find his films to be simply be not good enough. I admire the intentions of each of his films much more than I admire the films themselves.

Madea is Perry’s much popular character. She is a woman in her 60s or 70s, played by Perry himself in drag, which makes for an odd disconnect, as Perry is a huge man, and we never quite buy him as an old lady. But then Madea is so far over the top, that we’re not supposed to take her all that seriously in the first place. She is an exaggerated version of reality, and the audience loves her. I found the character annoying in her first film appearance, in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, tolerable in her second, Madea’s Family Reunion, and now with her third appearance in Madea goes to jail, I almost liked her. Perry has done nothing to make her more realistic, but I’ve softened to the character over time. I actually enjoyed her this time. She brings life into movie, whether she’s arguing with her family or with Dr. Phil and Judge Mathis, or making friends with prostitutes when she is sent to jail. In a movie that almost undoes itself with all the earnestness on display, Madea is a breath of fresh air.

Like many of Perry’s films, Madea Goes to Jail centers its story on a young woman in trouble, who is saved by a shining white knight you swoops into rescue her. In this case, the woman is Candy (Keshia Knight Pulliam, a long way for her days as Rudy on the Cosby Show), who was once a promising student, but is now a street hooker in Atlanta. One day in court, the ADA assigned to case, Joshua Hardway (Derek Luke), recognizes her as an old friend, and is determined to help her out in any way that he can. She resists the offer – the two share a dark secret that the films hints around until the final act – and she is distrustful of him. Not as distressful as Josh’s fiancée, who did not come from the hood like Josh, and doesn’t know why he is wasting his time on “these people”.

The movie follows the standard formula of a Tyler Perry movie, in that there are setbacks before the inevitable triumph when everything is solved, and everyone is happy. Along the way, we are treated to many scenes involving Madea, who is entertaining, and her family who really are not. Luke and Pulliam do their best playing their characters, but they are not real people, but instead they stand in for real characters. Like all of Perry’s creations, everyone in this movie is either entirely good or entirely bad. He does not paint any moral grey areas very effectively.

I am sure that fans of Perry’s films and stage work will love the film. After all, it ended up being his highest grossing film yet, so they must have. For me, the film doesn’t quite work. I like a little more complexity in my dramas, and more laughs in my comedies. So while I respect the film, I cannot really say I enjoyed it.

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