Watching Tyler Perry’s latest film, “Meet the Browns,” is like viewing two separate movies. The drama is intently interesting and well done while the other plays to Perry’s core audience. After showing so much promise with his last film, Perry has taken a step backwards with the cinematically dysfunctional, “Meet the Browns.”
Anchored by a strong lead performance by Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett, “Meet the Browns” begins on the gritty streets of the Chi, where Brenda (Bassett) is robbing Peter to pay Paul while struggling to keep her head above water. Raising four kids by three different absentee fathers, Brenda has been forced to stand independently while casting a wary eye toward male suitors. In the midst of trying to make ends meet, she keeps a close eye on her children, primarily her eldest son, Michael (Lance Gross) who hates seeing his mother’s shoulders wilting under the extreme pressure. Strong-willed Michael has aspirations to play pro basketball, but lacks a strong male role model. He soon meets agent/scout Harry (Rick Fox) who wants to coach him but Brenda immediately dismisses him weary of the memory of other men from her past.
After losing her job and coming up short paying her bills, Brenda has reached her breaking point. Just as she almost surrenders, her babysitter Miss Mildred (Irma P. Hall) inspires her to go on. But her fortune’s change when she receives a letter informing her that “rolling stone” daddy has died and she is summoned to Georgia for the funeral. With her family in tow, Brenda is in for a major surprise when she arrives to meet her “other” family, The Browns.
Ranging from the garishly dressed Leroy Brown (David Mann), patriarch L.B. Brown (Frankie Faison) to the family’s drama queen, Vera (Jenifer Lewis), the Browns are country, course, loud and opinionated – but also loving. Unaware that they have another “sister,” the family initially surveys but later accepts Brenda with open arms. It also doesn’t hurt that Harry also lives in the town and he has eyes for Brenda (who wouldn’t?). Will her Southern discomfort keep her from staying or will cast her lot back up in the big city?
Playing a character at least 15 years her junior, Bassett gives the best lead performance in any of Perry’s previous films. Displaying an almost regal quality, she completely sells the audience on the fact that her existence is one of struggle and without the help of any man, she ferociously protects her family. While Bassett gives a great performance, the supporting actors around her also meet her challenge. She does her best work in scenes with her crazy Latina girlfriend, Cheryl (Sofía Vergara) and with newcomer Gross. Their scenes together are the best in the film including one where he disobeys him and she threatens to throw him out of her house. In many films we’ve witnessed Bassett’s fiery intensity, but to see Gross match her level suggests that he has some real talent.
After such positive feedback for his previous film, “Why Did I Get Married,” this film finds Perry reverting back to old patterns while pandering to his core audience. Many of the scenes with Browns clan are underwritten, not funny and simply over the top. While Lewis consistently chews up scenery, some other sequences were totally unnecessary. In addition to a ridiculous funeral service and burial sequence, inserting Madea into two scenes not only made no sense but served no purpose other than to give the audience a chance to laugh at Perry in character.
The chemistry between Fox and Bassett also worked quite well. If only Perry has eliminated all of the Browns’ family tomfoolery, it would have made for a more watchable film. It was also fantastic to discover that the years have been quite kind to Bassett who sports, maybe for the first time on screen, some serious junk in the trunk. We love watching Bassett act, but it was also great just watching HER. It has been a decade since, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” but Bassett is the best reason to see this film. Its wonderful witnessing her get her leading lady groove on, but unfortunately, even a grand dame such as Bassett can’t save this tale of two films.