Eric D. Snider

Meet the Browns

Movie Review

Meet the Browns

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B-

Released: March 21, 2008

 

Directed by:

Cast:

Well, it took five tries, but Tyler Perry has finally made a good movie. Not a great movie, and not a movie without its flaws, but a good one nonetheless. This is something that, like a colony on the moon, many scientists believed we would not see in our lifetimes.

The film is "Meet the Browns," which Perry has adapted from one of his his seemingly endless supply of stage plays, and it shows remarkable growth. The awkward mix of farcical comedy and Lifetime Network melodrama that sunk his previous films ("Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Why Did I Get Married?," etc.) has been diluted considerably, so that now only a few moments stand out as cringingly slaphappy.

For the most part, it's a satisfying, respectable drama starring Angela Bassett -- it's no coincidence that Perry's best movie has the best actress he's been able to get -- as Brenda, a Chicago single mother struggling to make ends meet. She's a good mother, savvy and shrewd and protective, but she can only do so much. The kids' fathers are not in the picture. And as the film begins, the factory where she and her pothead Latina best friend Cheryl (Sofia Vergara) are employed closes down.

On the same day, Brenda gets word that her father (whom she never met) has died in Georgia, and that one of her half-siblings has provided bus tickets for her and the kids to come to the funeral. She travels to the rural, unnamed town to meet her extended family for the first time, and for a few minutes you think it's going to be a retread of "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," with a never-ending parade of buffoonish characters and outré backwater situations. Certainly Brenda's introduction to her half-brother Leroy Brown (David Mann), who wears garish outfits and behaves in a like manner, is not encouraging.

Fortunately, things quickly settle down again; the rest of the Browns are, if not completely normal, at least wacky in an agreeable, comfortable way. (I do like Jenifer Lewis as Vera, Brenda's heavy-drinking, outspoken half-sister.) The film is about Brenda's attempts to find stability for herself and her three children, and it plays out like a modern-day fairy tale. There are villains like Michael (Phillip Edward Van Lear), one of her snaky, deadbeat baby daddies. There is also a gallant prince in the form of Harry (Rick Fox), a basketball recruiter with his eye on Brenda's talented son, Michael Jr. (Lance Gross), and on Brenda herself. The finale is deliriously, improbably happy -- which is the point of the whole thing, of course.

Bassett is outstanding as Brenda, strong and dignified in the face of hardship (and, occasionally, in the face of other actors being less strong and dignified). There's a crucial scene in the first act between Bassett and Irma P. Hall as Mildred, an elderly neighbor who runs an informal daycare. Mildred, a no-nonsense old gal, dares to bring up a subject that may have already been on the viewer's mind: "You young girls today, having more babies than you can take care of." Brenda acknowledges her mistakes but dismisses them as beside the point: She gave birth to the kids, and now they're her responsibility. Bassett's distinguished performance makes it easy to go from judging Brenda for getting knocked up by three different guys to admiring her for striving to do the right thing now.

Perry's writing is still clumsy at times. "Meet the Browns" uses an extraordinary coincidence (Harry the basketball recruiter happens to be from the same tiny Georgia town as Brenda's relatives!) and some phony crises to manufacture instant drama. Brenda makes a major decision about the future of her family at one point, and the movie doesn't even show the decision-making process. From a storytelling standpoint, that's flat-out wrong. Perry's signature character, the rascally old Madea, makes a cameo late in the game that literally could be removed from the film without affecting the story in any way.

Yet despite those mistakes, "Meet the Browns" feels like an honest, warm drama with relatable characters. The humor is mostly funny and unforced. If Perry can maintain this balance between fulfilling the audience's wishes and shamelessly pandering to them, he might prove to be a gifted filmmaker after all.

Grade: B-

Rated PG-13, some vulgarity, brief mild violence

1 hr., 40 min.

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This item has 15 comments

  1. Clumpy says:

    Well, if Eric liked it, Orson Scott Card will REALLY like it. He actually said that Roscoe Jenkins was almost good because "Martin Lawrence is such a great comedian." I know!

  2. Ann says:

    It was good and I could very much relate to its context. It's LIFE...

  3. Celestine Dickens says:

    Somethings are best when left alone. I felt as though I was watching a serious movie with interruptions by comedy that just wasn't fitting in.

  4. erica williams says:

    i love meet the browns because it is so funny and it's like a family theme and mainly my family love watching it to

  5. frankie roman says:

    Listen up, people! Tyler Perry is a very successful man! He is a legend! He is amazingly great! Can't nobody be compared to him. This was not his only good movie. Let me tell you, all his movies have been fantastic! I never though I would say this, but they are even better than the plays. Each teaches a lesson and earns our respect. My favorites were "Diary" and "Reunion." All in all, Perry is amazing, and people should realize this immediately!

  6. kevith says:

    They must have really lowered the standards for "legend" status. Maybe I should resubmit my application.

  7. Carolyn says:

    I love all of Tyler Perry's movies and plays. As well as his tv show House of Payne. I think he is a talented individual that deserves every bit of success he is getting. If you don't like him or his work that's fine. However, no one can deny that there is a large market for his work. That is evident in box office sales. Continued success Mr. Perry!! I can't wait for the next movie ..... Madea goes to Jail...

  8. m says:

    Is Tyler Perry's family on this blog? What's up with that?

  9. Reese says:

    HATERS!!!! YOU may not like his movies but apparently millions of others do. All of his movies have had opening weekend grosses over $20 million. He is making movies for his people since no one else will. Do ya thing boy.....get that money.

  10. WTF says:

    Apparently the people complaining about Tyler Perry's movies don't understand the message that he is trying to bring across to his audience, a message that the world needs to hear more of.......... "Good Family Values"! Those of us who can relate to the characters embrace all of Tyler Perry's movie's and plays and we are the ones that understand what a "Real" legend is.

    Instead of "Hating" on another black man trying to do something with his talent/life why don't you show him how it's done.......since you seem to be the expert on making movies.

    (And for the record if you paid attention to the movie, Harry the basketball recruiter was sent to see her son from a tip given by the same person who sent the ticket)

  11. rb says:

    Don't forget about daddy's little girls. That movie was great...very well produced. This is one everyone should have in their collection.

  12. Blank Frank says:

    I'm confused. Why do we still get posts angrily defending the movie when Eric gave it a better-than-bad rating and nobody in the comments really trashed it?

  13. Reigh says:

    Well, obviously, Eric doesn't even know how to do his job, considering the fact he doesn't even understand the concept of the film. Tyler Perry is giving his message to people all over the nation but unfortunately, there are some who'd rather rate the high or low class of the film. I feel so offended to know that there are people who feel this way about Tyler Perry's films. Perry teaches us to love even when we have no more left in us, to forget, to forgive, to get the past out of the way and let you live you live the elated life you deserve to live. If Eric doesn't understand that, maybe he shouldn't write reviews, nor see Tyler Perry films. Nor Tyler Perry nor his fans care about a man's no good, low quality, incompetent reviews on a film that opened up at Nunber 2, with $20,082,809 in its opening weekend!

    Let him critisize Tyler Perry, he's just mad he can't get on his level.

  14. Loretta says:

    Hey ya'll,

    Quit ya' fighting and just enjoy the Movies OR Not !!! I happen to enjoy Perry's movies , Madea is my hero . No, I'm not in Perry's Family ,nor am I a Black Cross Dresser that totes a gun in her/his purse. I am a 44 year old white mother of 2 that just happens to like movies that make me laugh and also have some meaning in them.All of the movies have seen so far teach life lessons and also what power God has to work in our lives . I am also proud of the fact that Tyler Perry has done so well for himself. when you say he is making movies for "his People" that sounds a bit racist to me but either way, I hope he keeps on making them 'cause I really like watching them.

  15. Speeding Slowly says:

    This entire string of comments is awesome. I love how the morons scurry from the four corners of the earth to unite against...well...not even a bad review.

    I guess I'll join in, even though I haven't seen it yet (probably like most those who commented).

    Eric, Tyler Perry's movies are a CELEBRATION OF LIFE!

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