The story goes that A Madea Family Funeral is going to be the final big-screen appearance by Tyler Perry's most famous and infamous creation: the bossy, violent, and vulgar Mabel "Madea" Simmons, played by Perry himself with increasingly diminished enthusiasm over the years. Absolutely nothing in the film suggests  that will be the case (it is not, after all, Madea's own funeral that the film depicts), and at least since the time that Arthur Conan Doyle chucked Sherlock Holmes over a waterfall, creators have had a tendency to resurrect their most despised creations when the money is right. But I think we can absolutely say this much: Tyler Perry absolutely, transparently does not want to make Madea movies any more. Worse yet, he seems to have forgotten how to make a Madea movie: the highest peaks of the series now running to nine, ten, or eleven entries (depending on how you count the cameos) were never the stuff of the most outlandish cinematic inspiration, but there's a certain reliable formula that kept them pretty much on track. And now, Perry has fucked up even the formula.

So here's what we've got: somewhere in suburban Georgia, Vianne (Jen Harper) and Anthony (Derek Morgan) are about to celebrate their anniversary. All of their grown children have returned home for the event: Sylvia (Ciera Payton) and her husband Will (David Otunga), A.J. (Courtney Burrell) and his wife Carol (KJ Smith), and Jessie (Rome Flynn) and his brand-new fiancée Gia (Aeriél Miranda). Add in ancient patriarch Heathrow (Perry himself, adding a new role to his collection), a legless cancer survivor and sex fiend - the elderly are always sex fiends, in these movies - and we have enough people that there's hardly any chance to avoid interpersonal conflict, particularly with the early reveal that A.J. and Gia have been having an affair for a while now. It's a perfect formula for soapy melodrama, even before the mid-film twist that reveals another affair has been happening for a while.

Meanwhile, Heathrow's hated siblings, Madea and Joe (Perry #3) have been invited, bringing with them Joe's son Brian (Perry #4), and Madea's wacky cartoon gargoyle sidekicks, Bam (Cassi Davis) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). And that is the formula for lots of scenes of sluggish sketch comedy, in which Brian patiently voices the  respectability politics of Perry's target audience, while the others make fun of him and say dirty things. They arrive at a hotel just in time to find one of the people from the other subplot dead in a hugely compromised situation, and must thereafter resist their deep-set urges to gossip shamelessly. Meanwhile, Madea is tasked with arranging the funeral, which of course, when it shows up, is a monstrous, gaudy affair.

A Madea Family Funeral is a throwback to an older phase of Perry's career. The first set of Madea films - the ones adapted from the writer-director-star's stage plays - are all very much on this model: there is a serious half revolving (like as not) around some form of sexual indiscretion, there is is a wacky comic half revolving around Madea, the aunt of someone in the serious half, and these converge with a scene of tough love and some good hard wacking of thick heads. The second set of Madea films, starting with 2012's Madea's Witness Protection, have been strictly comic, expanding Madea and Joe's roles, mostly doing away with moral lessons, and indulging in far broader slapstick. Family Funeral is an attempt to split the difference between these two formulas, and it's really not successful at all. In the older movies, which all suffered from fairly severe tonal whiplash, Perry at least had the sense to keep the different genres from touching each other directly. A wacky scene, a sad scene, a wacky scene... the shift back and forth was disorienting, but manageable. In Family Funeral, the shifting happens right in the same scene; sometimes in the same shot. One thing that has emerged over the 13 years of Perry's directorial career - it is possibly the his only actual stylistic quirk - is that the "serious" scenes in his films employ a much darker lighting scheme than the "comedy" scenes (the only obvious exception I can think of is 2017's Boo 2! A Madea Halloween). In Family Funeral, this scheme doesn't hold, and so Madea and friends frequently walk into a scene visually flagged as serious, before getting down to their hijinks. It is a subtle, but profoundly distressing note.

Much more commonly, the film just welds the two things together. So, for example, Carol or Sylvia or somebody will look mordant and thoughtful, nodding in anguished agreement, while Madea and Hattie and Bam blather on in an endless chain of non-sequiturs, malapropisms, and mangled faux-scripture. It's one thing for the film to use this contrast to generate comic tension, as it occasionally does when Hattie or Joe are about to reveal the secrets they know, and the rest of the characters simply don't react to them at all, like they're literally in a different movie. For people to treat Madea as a source of hard-won wisdom, now that she's a cartoon character played by an obviously hostile actor who just wants out of the goddamn latex, simply can't work like it sort of did back when she was merely a colorful, garish eccentric.

This leads directly to a hapless, ineffective form of filmmaking marked primarily by its disinterest in whether anything about is actually working. The comedy is simply awful, even by Madea movie standards (of course, that's all subjective; the (exclusively white) audience I saw it with was laughing up a storm), and the filmmaking is sloppy and thoughtless. Plus ça change, and all: sloppy, thoughtless filmmaking is the foundation of Perry's filmography. But this isn't like the weird outsider art of his early work; this is just careless, with characters getting blocked by other characters in some deliriously ugly staging, flubbed and repeated lines left in, chintzier make-up work than this series has ever suffered from (Joe, in particular, looks like a badly-painted plastic toy). It feels like tossed-off junk, and that's exactly what it is: this was basically shot by Perry and crew in a hurry after 2017's Boo 2! and before 2018's Acrimony, for the more or less openly stated reason that he wanted to knock out a final Madea picture while he was still in that headspace, but he didn't want to release it until the market was hungry for another one. And that flavor of bored self-loathing is entirely on display in the film: it's not nearly bonkers enough to be like the ineffective Perry projects of old, too obviously made out of mercenary motives to have anything resembling even a ghost of inspiration. It's not, by any objective measure, the "worst" Madea film, but I am very confident in calling it the least-watchable.

Reviews in this series
Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Grant, 2005)
Madea's Family Reunion (Perry, 2006)
Madea Goes to Jail (Perry, 2009)
I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Perry, 2009)
Madea's Big Happy Family (Perry, 2011)
Madea's Witness Protection (Perry, 2012)
Boo! A Madea Halloween (Perry, 2016)
Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (Perry, 2017)
A Madea Family Funeral (Perry, 2019)

Other films in this series, yet to be reviewed
A Madea Christmas (Perry, 2013)