Any hopes that Tyler Perry had discovered nuance during the year since his first hit movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, are dashed at the start of Madea’s Family Reunion, in which we meet Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) and her dashing fiancé — who, the moment they’re behind closed doors, gives her a whack across the face. (He’s played by Blair Underwood as a nightmare Billy Dee Williams.) You haven’t seen anything yet, though. The key Perry moment arrives when Lisa’s mother, played with sexy resplendent bitchery by Lynn Whitfield, tells her to stay with the rich bastard because (I’m paraphrasing) there are just some things a black woman’s gotta do.
Let’s not sell Tyler Perry short. As the vinegar-witted Madea, he’s a drag performer of testy charm, but in his overlit patchwork way he’s also making the most primal women’s pictures since Joan Crawford flexed her shoulder pads. Madea’s Family Reunion plays Lisa’s horrific engagement off the romantic awakening of her sister (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), but Perry’s women aren’t just looking for love; they’re snapping psychological chains of poverty and abuse and upwardly mobile hunger. No wonder the audience finds them liberating.