Sunday, March 23, 2008

Meet the Browns

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Struggling Single-Mom Seeks Salvation in Tyler Perry’s Latest Morality Play

Tyler Perry has his finger on the pulse when it comes to entertaining an African-American audience in an uplifting fashion which resonates as real with that target demographic. And Meet the Browns is no exception, this being the latest in a string of the prolific playwright-turned-film director’s screen adaptations of a popular stage production.
His modern morality plays invariably touch on timely themes of urgent concern to the black community, though their messages might generally be delivered in conjunction with healthy doses of side-splitting humor. But where Perry himself has generally played a lead role, bringing the comic relief by cross-dressing as the sassy senior citizen Madea, this time, he merely makes a cameo appearance in drag instead opting to introduce a few new equally-colorful characters.
The picture explores such universal themes as abandonment, trust, faith and redemption on its way to resolving the challenges facing Brenda (Angela Bassett), a single-mother of three who’s been struggling to provide for her family while living in the projects on the south side of Chicago. At the point of departure, we find her barely surviving paycheck-to-paycheck with no safety net to fall back on, and having to choose between paying her bills and putting food on the table.
We learn that this sorry state of affairs is due to her being burdened with raising her kids without child support from any of their fathers. She soon bottoms-out when she loses her job the same day she learns of the death in Georgia of the father she never knew.
Fortunately, she heeds the advice of her best friend Cheryl (Sofia Vergara), a loudmouthed Latina who puts Brenda and her brood on a bus in time to attend the funeral. Once they arrive in the tiny Southern town, not only do they “Meet the Browns,” the long-lost, if flamboyant relatives they never knew they had, but also a knight in shining armor in Harry (Rick Fox), a basketball scout. Handsome Harry is a Houdini who has the answer to their every problem, if only the thrice-burnt Brenda will let her guard down long enough to allow this good man to sign her high school phenom son (Lance Gross) to a pro contract, to buy them a house and to ask for her hand in marriage.
In the interim, the movie devotes plenty of time to getting acquainted with the Browns, as clownish a clan as you could hope to meet, starting with Leroy, an egg-head with the most garish wardrobe imaginable. Then there’s his morbidly obese daughter Cora (Tamela Mann), and the shrewish Vera (Jenifer Lewis), a witch with nothing nice to say about anybody. Kudos to a supporting cast which includes Margaret Avery, Frankie Faison, Lamman Rucker and Irma P. Hall
As the plot winds its way inexorably towards its very predictable payoff, it comes as no surprise that rather than hang around her embarrassing kin, Brenda starts to entertain the advances of her perfect gentleman suitor. Too laced with silly slapstick to measure up to the best of Tyler Perry’s previous offerings, yet still hilarious in spots and ultimately satisfying enough to be well worth watching.

Very Good (3 stars)
PG-13 for profanity, violence, mature themes, sexual references and drug use.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films

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