Posted: 09/15/2008


Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys


by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Boy, I’ve been waiting for this latest Tyler Perry movie, Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys. No, I wasn’t fiending for the trademark slapstick comedy, but as I noted in my review Meet the Browns, I anticipated Tyler’s departure for what many years from now will be known as his anthology of Madea films.

With The Family That Preys, Tyler brings to the screen a notable ensemble cast that includes veteran actresses Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates. Sanaa Lathan, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson, Rockland Dunbar, KaDee Strickland, Kiara Whitehead, Robin Givens and Tyler Perry (who plays Henson’s construction-worker husband, Ben) round out the rest of the cast, in a movie filled with betrayal, lust, ambition, warmth, tradition and themes of race and class, among other things.

The movie follows the close ties of an affluent white family headed by matriarch Charlotte Cartwright (Bates) and a working-class black family headed by matriarch Alice Pratt (Woodard). Woodard plays the typecast mom who works forever, never seeming to have much fun; just living and sacrificing and taking care of her family and the extended community.

Alice’s oldest daughter, Andrea, (Lathan) is newly married to Chris (Dunbar), and William Cartwright (Hauser) offers her a prestigious job at his family’s construction firm. The families have known each other for 30 years or more, first meeting when Charlotte’s family tried to buy out Alice’s house in a land grab deal.

While Andrea and sister Pam (Henson) grew up in the same household, they are very different as adults, Pam is kind and considerate, as she works at her mother’s diner, but she holds a grudge because her mother sacrificed to send Andrea to college, and Andrea just seems ungrateful.

On the other hand Andrea is snooty with bourgeoisie dreams, as she and hubby live in a house that’s being paid for by the Cartwrights, and she drives a Mercedes as part of the “work plan,” also. Andrea is such a mean-spirited daughter and wife, and she disrespects Chris at every turn.

This movie, for me, seems to be a cross between Driving Miss Daisy, Thelma and Louise and The Bucket List, as Charlotte and Alice go off into the sunset, with the end result being Charlotte sharing her sad medical diagnosis with Alice. And all the while Alice tries to hold onto her sanctified soul while Charlotte drinks and carouses around.

In between all this comes the conniving and backstabbing between William, as he tries to gain complete control of the company; even as Abby (Givens), who surprisingly doesn’t play the wicked witch in this movie, shows allegiance to Charlotte and her years and commitment to making the firm a success.

Many storylines cross, as Chris and Ben (who both work for William) vie for a construction firm of their own, but they are high on ideas and short on cash. Chris confides in Andrea, only to have his dreams squashed, as she constantly reminds him that he’ll never be like William (Cartwright), the boss with whom she’s sleeping and hoping against hope that in the end he’ll choose her over his wife.

Andrea has found a match in William, because he gives his mother grief, as he anticipates pushing her off her throne in the family business. He’s just as vindictive and surly as Andrea, and seems to have a penchant for beautiful Black women, as his firm seems to be teeming with them, and his eye is often caught wandering when he’s around the hired help.

Many twists and secrets take up the rest of the movie. And as is classic Perry, there are also themes of redemption, and the good folks shall triumph in the end, and the bad folks will catch pure hell eventually!

Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys is entertaining enough, although many characters are figured out early on in the movie, and there are many cases of Black male-bashing (but Tyler wrote it!) and an instance of domestic violence that is revolting.

But it’s worth the admission to see Bates and Woodard, who audience members can’t help but cheer for at the end, as her secret is finally revealed.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor and film critic in Chicago.

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