As our film starts we see that it is the day of the wedding between Andrea (Sanaa Latham) and Chris (Rockmon Dunbar). This beautiful gathering is being hosted and funded by the wealthy matriarch of the Cartwright Clan, Charlotte (Kathy Bates), who is doing this thing as a favor for her very best friend and Andrea’s hard working mother Alicia (Alfre Woodard). One might wonder how a wealthy white southern belle with a vicious mean streak became best friends with a salt of the earth African American devout Christian woman who runs a struggling corner greasy spoon. But their relationship will be explained in due time. What won’t be explained in Tyler Perry’s latest film ‘The Family that Preys’ is how in the world did the character of Andrea, who is nasty, self-important, disrespectful and whorish managed to hook up with the character of Chris, who is simple to the point of almost being mentally disabled. The origins of their relationship, at least to me, are far more of a mystery than Charlotte’s and Alicia’s.
To complete the setting of our stage, Alicia has another daughter in Pam (Taraji P. Henson) who is the polar opposite of her hateful sister, and naturally the two don’t get along all that well. Pam is married to Chris’s best friend Ben (Perry) who just wants to enjoy the simple life. Charlotte tends to save a lot of vitriolic venom for her son William (Cole Hauser) and his wife Jillian (KaDee Strickland) since William seems to be trying to stab her in the back at every turn and Jillian seems to have simple misfortune of existing.
After the wedding the film picks up four years down the road and we see that Andrea is now working under William, so to speak, as his personal assistant and is making a nice chunk of change in the process which she constantly holds over her working class husbands head. Chris is working with Ben for William’s construction company, though this doesn’t help alleviate the repeated insults and verbal attacks that he has to absorb
from his wife. The couple also has a young son, though the kid only causes more stress for the couple, or at least for Andrea since Chris is completely oblivious to practically everything that’s going on around him. Pam still hates her sister, William hates his mother, Alice loves everybody and Charlotte loves only Alice. Further complicating matters for Charlotte and William’s relationship is the fact that Charlotte has hired the Yale educated Abby (Robin Givens) to run the family company, a job William thought that he was in line to take over. Then Charlotte and Alice go on a road trip across the U.S. and return just in time to see everything their respective families hit the fan.
Each successive film that I see from Tyler Perry gets better and ‘The Family that Preys’ is no exception as this is, across the board, his most accomplished film to date. But… humor me for a moment while we use a baseball analogy. When Barry Bonds steps up to the plate with a runner on first base, you don’t ask him to bunt. Why? Because he hits home runs most of the time and you don’t ask power hitters to bunt, even if it’s for the good of the team. Tyler Perry swings for home runs all the time, every time. Even still, despite the fact that I am in no position to dispense advice to someone as outrageously successful as Tyler Perry, for his next movie I’m asking Barry Bonds to bunt. Pull it back. Tone it down. Take a little off. Take one for the team.
Yes, ‘The Family that Preys’ was entertaining. All you had to do was look around and watch and listen to the audience that I saw this film with to realize this. But as is typical in Perry’s films, it was still way over the top, the characters were far to extreme and broadly drawn to be even remotely considered real people and the melodrama runs so deep that the ‘Guiding Light’ sent a memo to bring it down a notch.
I realize the Sanaa Latham character was supposed to be a bitch and all, but for real, who talks to their husband like that? All the time? I would’ve stomped a corn in her ass a long time ago, and I a fairly passive dude. Of course after settings things straight we’d still let her come on home because she’s far to fine to just leave floating around out there, despite her egregious transgressions. To the contrary how many insults, late work nights, revelations and verbal attacks can one man take before he begins asks himself "Hmmm… I wonder if something’s going on there?" An infinite number apparently. Then this character goes from Gandhi to O.J. Simpson faster than Usain Bolt running the hundred. These are simply the same stock characters that usually show up in Perry’s films and plays, just with their genders reversed.
Despite the heavy handed melodrama and some of the fairly ridiculous characters the film still works largely because as a film director Tyler Perry continues to gain an assured mastery of his craft and he is working with a damn fine cast. Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard are a pair actresses so skilled that they could read the ingredients off of a cereal box and make it sound compelling. Sanaa Lathan is still physically perfect, and though her character is completely ludicrous, damn if she didn’t play out all of that ridiculousness to the hilt. Robin Givens might be prettier today, at forty four for goodness sakes, than she was when she was on ‘Head of the Class’. Quite frankly all of the actors from Taraji P. to Perry himself all found their rhythms somewhere within this melodramatic goop.
All I’m saying is considering Tyler Perry’s higher skill level as a director and as an actor for that matter, I imagine how good a movie he could craft if he possibly considered, and I realize that this is almost heresy, maybe letting someone else write it. When you’ve been writing the plays that Perry has been writing for as long as he’s been writing them, it’s probably pretty tough to change that particular style, especially when that style has been crazy successful. I’m asking Barry Bonds to take one for the team, lay down a bunt and imagine the possibilities.