It’s lights out for Madea, the battle-ax sass queen with a criminal background created three decades ago and portrayed by Tyler Perry. That’s right. Perry, 49, says he will no longer put on a gray wig and wiggle his 6-foot-5 frame into the floral print dresses of the geriatric black woman who righteously goes whupass on any fool who gets in her way. A Madea Family Funeral is the 11th and final film to star the character most associated with Perry in a series of films, plays and books. Madea is a beloved comic creation, but Perry — as ever the writer, director, producer and star in drag — isn’t much of a filmmaker. He says it only took a week to shoot the final chapter. At first you think that’s amazing. By the end, you’re amazed it took him so long to create such a slack, formless, monotonous mess. And yet Madea still gets in her licks. Perry says he based Madea on his mother and aunt, adding that Madea “would beat the hell out of you but make sure the ambulance got there in time to make sure they could set your arm back.”
Is Perry really saying goodbye to a character who made him a fortune (Madea films have grossed over $500 million worldwide) and that he holds so dear? I’m skeptical. Besides, it’s not Madea in the casket in A Madea Family Funeral. It’s another family member. Anthony (Derek Morgan), the clan patriarch, is found dead in a Georgia hotel room after a night of rough sex with a dominatrix. It’s no joke (or maybe it is) to expire with an S&M ball-gag in your mouth, though circumstances are mitigated by Anthony’s persistent hard-on and the smile on his face. All of this is, unfortunately, witnessed by Madea and her posse of Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and the squeaky-voiced Hattie (Patrice Lovely), none of whom can keep running their mouths about it. They’re in the hotel to celebrate the anniversary of Anthony and Vianne (Jen Harper), who has long suffered her randy husband’s infidelities. To add to the scandal, AJ (Courtney Burrell), Anthony’s married son, occupies the room next to him, and he’s enjoying a tryst with Gia (Aeriél Miranda), the fiancée of his brother Jesse (How to Get Away With Murder’s Rome Flynn).
Got that? Truth be told, I’ve never understood the family ties in any Madea film. They’re mostly an excuse for Perry to play more characters. This time it’s Joe, Madea’s dirty-old-man brother, the straight-laced Brian (just for contrast) and Heathrow, a wheelchair-bound, throat-cancer survivor who says he lost his legs in a war (he didn’t) and uses a laryngophone to make his obscene thoughts heard.
Everything spills out in a cacophony of voices trying to scream over each other to diminishing returns in laughs. Spike Lee has famously dismissed Perry’s films as “coonery buffoonery.” In defense, Oprah Winfey announced that her friend Perry “grew up being raised by strong, black women. And so much of what he does is really in celebration of that. I think that’s what Madea really is: A compilation of all those strong black women that I know and maybe you do too? And so the reason it works is because people see themselves.”
Wherever you find yourself in the Perry equation, Madea herself deserves a final high-five. Perry hints that she may come back in a younger version, not played by him. But Madea will never be the same without her creator. In A Madea Family Funeral, she hosts a memorial service that defines the term hellzapoppin. And Perry correctly and adoringly gives her the last word in which she lets all the women have for letting any damn man abuse them. Hallelujah, sister!