There’s no denying that playwright and filmmaker Tyler Perry knows his audience and sets out to whet their fancy yet again with his latest feature film, Meet The Browns. The Atlanta, GA based movie maker said of his latest project, “I wrote this film for single mothers to encourage them to never give up no matter how hard it gets.”
This release, Perry’s fifth film — based on his successful stage play of the same title— hits theaters Easter weekend, March 21 from Lionsgate Pictures.
The etiquette defunct Brown’s are among Perry’s arsenal of high energy characters, born from his active imagination, whose animated antics have entertained audiences across the country in live, sold-out performances, leaving them wanting more.
Principal figure, Leroy Brown (David Mann) is the outlandishly clad uncle --with a colorful vocabulary and wardrobe to match-- whose short lived affair with “Madea” (Perry) yielded daughter Cora (Tamela Mann), a God-fearing yet outspoken single parent. These three are the defining characters that gave birth to Perry’s insignia of urban-tinged, faith-inspired, family-friendly humor.
In this installment of the continuing “Madea family” theme, patriarch Daddy Brown has died and the family has convened in Georgia for his funeral and the reading of the will.
Did somebody say dysfunctional family?
Sister Vera (Jenifer Lewis) is the alcoholic baby sister in the Brown family whose one good contribution is her gynecologist son, Will (Lamman Rucker). Rucker made hearts swoon in Perry’s Why Did I Get Married, as love interest to songbird Jill Scott cast as a jilted wife —carrying extra pounds— burdened by an unfaithful husband.
The Brown’s Vera doesn’t bite her rum-soaked tongue and agitates and offends everyone in her presence, chiefly her big brother, L.B. (Frankie Faison), whose sympathetic wife Sarah (Margaret Avery) is the only rational member of the folksy yet erratic clan.
Lewis said she could relate to the Brown’s kaleidoscopic pathology, particularly the aspect of returning home to reclaim your roots and heal emotional hurts, stating, “You know, most of us come from a dysfunctional family and we just moved away to the big city to pursue a dream. When we left home, we left ‘our stuff back there’ and when we return home, everybody is just looking, waiting to see if we’ve made it. You love your family but there’s always that relative who just couldn’t get off the booze (laughter). We have compassion for those people and when we go back it’s the same as when we left. It’s just family. You don’t get to choose your family. You choose your friends and you love your family.”
New to the dramatic arch of the Brown family is estranged half sister, Brenda (Oscar nominee Angela Bassett), a struggling single mother, who has just lost her job and her hope. Lewis and Bassett worked together in “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”
A letter from L.B. informs Brenda of Daddy Brown’s death and includes bus tickets to Georgia to attend the funeral. L.B. is the only sibling who knew of their father’s numerous dalliances that yielded Brenda and possibly others.
Encouraged by best friend Cheryl (Sofía Vergara) to take the trip down South to meet her family, Brenda has no other options, or so she thinks. Too, Cheryl’s short-stemmed intolerance of Brenda’s trifling ex lends to the story’s humorous overtones and inner-city verve.
Defiant yet desperate, flat broke and dejected by one of her three baby-daddies who refuses to pay any form of child support, Brenda’s inability to pay child care to the very lenient neighborhood caretaker Miss Mildred (Irma P. Hall), has her on the brink of destitution when the last straw is broken. They are down to one cup of oatmeal and her electricity is turned off.
Brenda has no where else to turn, fraught with despair, just trying to hold on. The cohesive threads in her tattered life are her devoted and trusting children: Michael (Lance Gross), Tosha (Chloe Bailey) and Lena (Mariana Tolbert), hungry from too little food and tentative from the instability of an obviously distressful mother. Her eldest child Michael is a talented high school basketball star torn between his desire to go to college and the lure of making fast money selling drugs so he can help support the family.
Providing the much needed paternal influence in Michael’s life is Harry (Rick Fox), a concerned high school basketball coach who sidelines as an NBA scout and sees promise in Michael. He pursues Brenda and her son, despite their initial resistance.
Also hailing from Georgia, Harry is just a down home guy looking for love and forgiveness. He is suffering the consequences from poor judgment over past gambling debts that ended his NBA career and drove his wife and kids away.
Perry’s Brown’s are all over the map and the requisite interplay between his signature characters is evident. While he keeps his stable of trademark personas on the minds of his audiences wherever possible --he also introduces new characters and subplots-- and that seems to be just fine with his growing multitude of fans. Madea even makes a cameo, setting the stage for his next feature, Madea Goes To Jail.
Albeit, Perry’s “Madea” is the foundation of all his films, asked about the onscreen brevity of the celebrated matriarchal icon in this film, Perry explained, “Madea showing up for that one scene in this movie [where she is being chased down by the police] is just a set up for Madea Goes To Jail. I wanted to set it up during this movie because I’ve already written it and we start shooting in another couple of months. It was just a little marketing thing that I was doing to let audiences know that it’s coming up.”
Keeping with his trademark format of sweeping dramatic platforms that trumpet the bewildered, redeeming them with vast emotional payoffs in the finale, interspersed with high notes of hilarity, Perry’s storytelling method is a formulaic balm that has proven successful at the box office for loyalists who see his films as more than entertainment rather a clarion call to the community, the lion’s share of them, urban congregants.
The hilarity buffers the hard-hitting social pulpit Perry’s themes are known for, namely in this film, the Leroy Brown character. David Mann as the loveable Mr. Brown explains his character’s indescribable look stating, “The whole wardrobe thing with Mr. Brown was done initially for shock value. During the earlier days (of the stage plays), I’d show up at dress rehearsals in full blown costumes and Tyler would look at me --shake his head-- and tell me to scale it back (laughter).”
Asked how she feels about Mr. Brown’s look, Tamela states, “He doesn’t dress like that when he’s out with me (laughter).” David, real life husband of Tamela Mann makes his feature film debut in Meet The Browns. The Mann’s have been married for 20 years and have three children.
Moreover, the Mann’s have been with Perry every step of the way on his astounding ascension into the lexicon of Hollywood success stories; likewise, they have seen him grow into a heralded filmmaker and entertainment phenomenon. Prior to his upcoming release, Perry’s films to date have grossed $200 million in box office receipts.