Tyler Perry’s movies are review-proof. Not just because he does not let critics see them before they are released, knowing that his audience won’t care about reviews, but because they do not lend themselves to the usual kind of analysis. They are not the usual kind of movie. They don’t fit into any category except their own: Tyler Perry movie. And as his wildly enthusiastic and utterly devoted fans know, that means a walloping portion of high drama and low comedy, with suffering women who are afraid to trust and very hunky men who are good with their hands, endlessly patient and thoughtful and — in both senses of the word — faithful.
Taraji P. Henson plays April, who lives in a decaying house she inherited from her father, and shuts the door on rooms that are about to collapse rather than trying to repair them. She supplements what she earns by singing at a tiny club with support from her married boyfriend (Brian White). Madea (Perry) catches April’s 16-year-old niece and two younger nephews trying to rob her house. She feeds them, scolds them, and delivers them to April, who has no interest in taking care of anyone, even herself. They are the children of April’s sister, who died of a drug overdose, and they have been cared for by April’s mother, who has disappeared. April is a bit slow on the uptake about what could have happened to her mother, which gives the story a few days for everyone to get acquainted, including a recent immigrant named Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) who is conveniently enough a handyman installed in the house by the kindly preacher around the corner (real-life pastor and gospel great Marvin Winans).
April’s one friend is Tanya (Mary J. Blige) and there is a woman from the church named Wilma who knows April’s mother (Gladys Knight). This gives the film an opportunity for some raise-the roof singing and praise, including the title number. Pastor Winans lends his voice to a heartfelt “Just Don’t Wanna Know/Over it Now,” and we believe that April, hearing it through her window, is genuinely moved by its powerful message. The songs and Henson’s sensitive portrayal of the woman who has neglected herself and her home keep us involved.
Some audiences object to Perry’s portrayal of the popular character Madea, calling her an exaggerated caricature or an embarrassing stereotype. But Perry knows that she provides some counterpoint to the melodrama, in this case including drug abuse, adultery, child molestation, and disability. I am far more troubled by the stereotypes in films like “Friday After Next,” “The Cookout,” and “Next Day Air” than in Perry’s films, which always include an assortment of thoughtful and responsible characters. A little comic relief with Madea’s jumbled-up Bible stories keeps things from getting overheated and reminds us that life — and families — are always a jumble of good, bad, wicked, kind, and silly.