The ninth feature in Tyler Perry‘s Madea series (not including various Madea videos), “Boo! A Madea Halloween” began as a parody of a typical Madea film in Chris Rock‘s 2014 comedy “Top Five.” Perry’s producers liked the idea of Rock’s send-up of Madea, and so Perry has obliged them with a movie set at Halloween with a variety of youthful YouTube personalities in support.
It isn’t clear if Perry realizes that he is setting himself up for a lot of criticism from his detractors with the basic premise of this film. One of the most offensive stereotypes about African-Americans in older movies is that they are exaggeratedly afraid of things, and Perry’s Madea character plays into that here when she says, “You know black people are scared of every damn thing” and makes reference to voodoo down in New Orleans. Yet Perry mostly skirts this very serious problem by mainly avoiding scenes where his characters are scared, which is why the tone and plot of the film keeps swinging this way and that.
The conflict in “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is that the straight-laced Brian, who is also played by Perry, is having trouble disciplining his teenaged daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) after his wife left him for another man. This conflict is discussed in a very strange scene in which Brian talks about the abusive discipline of his own youth with Madea and his father Joe, who is also played by Perry. It is said that Madea put Brian on life-support when he was four years old, and that Joe threw him off a roof and that a pencil in Brian’s pocket pierced his testicles. These very harsh details aren’t at all funny, and they aren’t really played for laughs.
And so we have three Tyler Perry‘s in this scene, one dressed in drag, one dressed as an old man, and one who looks and sounds like the real Perry, and all of them are discussing outrageous physical cruelty toward a child. There is an air of psychodrama about all of this, as if Perry is working through his own issues about childhood abuse through the broad comedy characters he has created, and this is unsettling, to say the least. The crux of this movie is that Madea and Joe were monsters to the children in their care but Brian is too lenient, and so Brian has to learn to stand up to his daughter, which he does in a scene where Perry is very focused and impassioned.
Perry is in an odd position. He started out on an amateur level, but his films made money and continue to make money, and he has gained in assurance as a writer and a filmmaker and a performer. He’s a very hard-working comic, and he can be funny, especially when he delivers lines as Madea in a fast, throwaway style. Perry has said that Madea is mainly based on his own aunt, and there does seem to be a human basis for this character, who has probably become a kind of albatross for Perry that he can never shake off.
There is often a barnstorming energy to Perry’s movies that can be fairly likable, and the other performers in “Boo! A Madea Halloween” work for and get their share of laughs, particularly Cassi Davis, who gets lots of comic mileage out of her character Aunt Bam’s joy over possessing a prescription card for medical marijuana.
Madea herself makes many references to her past as a “ho” who spent “time on the pole” to earn a living, and she is forever in trouble with the police for credit card fraud and things of that nature. Whether Perry’s Madea is or is not funny comes down to individual taste, and also being able to stomach some low-down humor. Perry plays around with the idea that the other characters are on to his Madea, as when his Joe character says, “That’s a dude,” as Madea goes upstairs to investigate what might be some ghosts in the attic.
When Perry’s Madea says the word “Halloween” it comes out as “Holler-ween,” a sign of her liveliness and of Perry’s own willingness to do anything to make his audience laugh while also sneaking in some of his own emotional concerns. He will likely always be a divisive figure, but he is funnier than some of the other more over-rated comedians of the present day. He is often mocked or put down, but his voice and his sensibility are real, and this is clear even in an iffy project like “Boo! A Madea Halloween.”