Film critics and Hollywood continue to flap around, completely flummoxed by Tyler Perry and his unstoppable empire of entertainment. A one man writing, directing, producing, and acting force that answers to no one because he makes movies for $5 million and then turns around and brings in ten times that. If you're a fan of the Lionsgate-era of big-budget or straight-to-DVD horror, you can thank Tyler Perry. He is their cash cow.
But routinely, whenever one of Perry's films comes out, it's greeted at best with mild acceptance and at worst with total disdain. There is indeed a TV movie quality to Perry's films that can turn off viewers expecting something more cinematic, but the beef critics have with these films lie in their melodramatic moralizing and heavy Christian message. In contrast, Madea's Family Reunion opened to a $30 million dollar weekend thanks to a dedicated fan base in the black community.
This started an interesting conversation...
White critics wondered "Who is Tyler Perry?" while black fans replied "You don't know who Tyler Perry is?!?". Through his stage plays, Perry was already a pop phenomenon. Yet when the weekend came for his box-office busting film debut, any discussion of it flew under the radar. Was this East coast journalistic bias (ie a preference for non-Southern art) or just plain old journalistic ignorance? At first, I thought the latter. But when the establishment continued to shrug at each # 1 release of Perry's I moved over to the former.
Meet the Browns isn't one of Perry's better efforts. It feels like a middle ground between the earlier days of the theater and his current path as a filmmaker. There is no doubt that the man is still a cinematic novice. He's yet to develop a visual style, let alone grasp an understanding of something as basic as camera placement. Like Phyllida Lloyd's recent theater-to-screen Mamma Mia!, you get the feeling that Tyler Perry is just recording instead of directing.
In a tender scene between Brenda (Angela Bassett) and Harry (Rick Fox), the camera lingers on the actor's faces while the moment is begging for a wider shot. As a veteran actress, you can sense Bassett communicating and emoting through her hands and body, yet the shot is static... then it cuts to their wedding. Eek.
Tyler Perry is a populist storyteller that values the ethics of the message over the ethics of the film. And, for now, that's okay. His rich connection to the audience, and their returning devotion to his movies of morality & family is unique in these times when Tony Stark and Batman are looked to for self-identification.
Perry's yet to make a great film, but his limited efforts have birthed two good ones (Daddy's Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married?). Give him some room and give him some time, because above all of the setbacks he remains one of our era's true auteurs.