Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tyler Perry's "The Family That Preys"

Dare I say Tyler Perry has made his first full-on "good" movie? I've seen every one of Perry's efforts, and while they range from execrable ("Diary of a Mad Black Woman") to enjoyable-if-amateurish bits of audience-participation fare ("Why Did I Get Married"), the experience with a crowd is usually fun. With this latest effort, he employs the same crowd-pleasing, rabble-rousing, melodramatic dialogue (if cutting back on it), but does so in service of a generally more dramatic story than he's grown accustomed to. As a result, we get emotional moments that vaguely resemble pathos -- not just shoehorned-in crying beats -- and a genuinely engaging intertwining story of two families (one black, one white) featuring members both despotic and sympathetic. Now, this could largely be due to the fact that he's cast really fine actors delivering honest, affecting performances; Alfre Woodard, Robin Givens, and most of all, a stir-fried Kathy Bates deliver very strong work here, perhaps investing us a mite more than we might be otherwise. Though it's troubling that Perry still can't resist feeding the audience one trademark moment of embracing-your-worst-impulses (a man beating his cheating wife is played as an applause moment), it's almost balanced out by the fact that he avoids depicting a single white character as inherently evil or racist, a problem that's plagued him before. While his Madea movies may be the ones his crowds go the most hog-wild for, "The Family That Preys" offers further proof that when Perry abandons his live-action cartoon characters, he's actually capable of delivering entertaining, well-done melodrama.


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