Posted: 03/31/2008


Meet the Browns


by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Tyler Perry has managed to foster a cult-like status among the Black community, and I would venture to say particularly among Black women.

His urban theater circuit productions continue to sell out throughout the country, and his latest movie Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns is a feature length film of a previous theater offering.

In Meet the Browns, Angela Bassett plays a single mother named Brenda living in Chicago and struggling as all single moms do, with no support from any of the three “baby daddies” in her life. Well, they aren’t exactly in her life: the father of the oldest child, Michael (Lance Gross), is eventually located, so he can merely refuse to pay child support, after Brenda loses her job.

I don’t know if being a single Black mother in Chicago just makes one mean, or if the absentee fathers contribute to the pot, but Brenda is almost too mean to get on a bus to Georgia after her own absentee father dies and leaves her something in his will. Man, there’s a pattern here!

Brenda, unemployed and crying all the time, has nothing to lose. She hops the bus to Georgia, with three children in tow. Michael is the caring, well mannered, big brother who aspires to be a professional basketball player and really helps his mom out with his two younger sisters.

Brenda has a best gal pal, Cheryl, who’s unconvincingly played by Sofia Vergara (Four Brothers, Soul Plane, Lords of Dogtown). Vergara was born in Cólombia, and she portrays a Latina so full of stereotypes that it’s unsettling.

This role, I’m sure, would have gone to Tasha Smith, who’s played the loud-mouthed, surly Black woman in the last two Perry movies, Daddy’s Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married? Maybe Perry is going for inclusion, but a female stereotype is still a stereotype—big, gold necklaces hanging down in cleavage that’s barely maintained in cheap, flimsy tops, with tight “hoochie mama” slacks, topped off with brightly colored stilettos.

The film has some good moments; veteran actor Irma P. Hall plays the neighborhood babysitter, who’s also mean but nice and forgiving at the same time; Jenifer Lewis (The Preacher’s Wife, Girl 6, What’s Love Got to Do with It) who plays the forever drunk long lost sister, and Margaret Avery (The Color Purple and Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins) are also part of the “countrified” clan that awaits Brenda’s visit.

Former basketball star Rick Fox plays Brenda’s love interest, Harry, and basketball scout, whose initial interest is in Michael’s high school hoop skills.

Although Brenda inherits a house after she attends her father’s funeral, she declares it uninhabitable and returns to the mean streets of Chicago. The story turns familiar quickly: There’s never enough money, Michael gets caught up in the city trappings by selling drugs and doom once again permeates the air. Brenda just can’t seem to stop crying, but Harry comes back to Chicago to rescue her and the entire family. Finally they all return to Georgia, and all’s well that ends well.

A nagging question: Why does Perry still need Madea, albeit in this case he/she played just a tiny role? It added no cohesive thread to the rest of the movie. Maybe only Hollywood can answer that, or maybe since Madea was a huge part of the theater production, the character was needed in the movies.

I couldn’t figure out what was more irritating—Brenda’s stereotypical, unbelievable girlfriend, Cheryl, the fact that Brenda couldn’t seem to stop crying, or that many lines in the movie bordered on male bashing. However, to those males who think they may have been bashed in this movie, Perry always, always stays true to reality with his story ideas. So what Brenda goes through is typically what many single moms of all ethnicities go through

Notwithstanding all of this, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns showcases Chicago scenes that are great to watch. At the end of the day, if you just need a laugh, Perry has the right combination of comedic bits and stereotypical characters to keep you in stitches. But the outtakes on Meet the Browns provided equally as much gut-busting laughs.

Perry’s movies have made millions and have scored top spots on weekend movie lists, and as long as he packs them in at the box office, I’m sure that’s all that matters. Maybe the financial rewards should eventually give way to Perry exploring other types of screenplays. But I guess, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I don’t particularly enjoy Perry films, and I’m eagerly anticipating seeing him in the upcoming Star Trek movie, as well as his own A Jazz Man’s Blues. I hope they break the mold and Perry goes in another direction.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.

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