Friday, September 5, 2008

Hidden (Quasi) Gem - Meet The Browns

I've watched almost every Tyler Perry product of the last few years, including a few plays, on DVD for work-related reasons. While House Of Payne is perhaps one of the worst television series ever created, Perry is steadily improving as a filmmaker in the feature film front.

Maybe it was just the incredible advantage of having Angela Bassett read your script, but Meet The Browns was actually a pretty good film. It's a billion times subtler and quieter than Diary Of A Mad Black Woman or Daddy's Little Girls, and the dialogue is far less on-the-nose than Why Did I Get Married. The ending is a little too unrealistically happy, but far less melodramatic than any other Perry film.

It's not a perfect film. Bassett is supposed to be playing a 30 year old (references are made in the 'babies having babies' vein), and her dirt poor character looks stunning throughout. Plus, and this is an issue with a lot of 'empowering' movies, her character's problems are solved by others helping her rather than her really doing anything for herself.

But, as the film unfolds, you can actually see Perry resisting the urge to go big or go for boisterous at all times. The film is a mix of three different Perry plays so you can literally compare scenes from the previous medium. There is still a little 'Perry-ness' here and there (there's an insanely gratuitous ten minute Madea cameo right as the film is reaching its dramatic climax), but overall it's more concerned with playing to the movie theater seats instead of the back of the theatre aisles.

As tragic as it is that Angela Bassett hasn't had a lead role since 1998, she absolutely kills in this film. Erma P. Hall isn't too shabby either, and the actor who plays the oldest son (Lance Gross) has a stunningly good scene with his mother about 3/4 of the way through. If this were a more mainstream studio picture released in October, Bassett would be in contention for another Oscar nomination. As a result this is the first Tyler Perry film that I can recommend without serious reservations. If Perry continues to use Bassett, and especially if no one else does, I may just have to become a Tyler Perry fan. It at least gives me hope for 'The Family That Preys Together', which stars the also underused Alfre Woodard.

Scott Mendelson

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