Tyler Perry is without a doubt the hardest-working man in showbiz. He seems to have directed every episode of his sitcom, “House of Payne,” released a new commercially successful film every six months for the past few years and built a strong cult following around his ever-burgeoning empire. But the question remains: Is his body of work any good?

Phillip Kurdunowicz
(Insert politically correct joke here (Courtesy of LIONSGATE) )

We haven’t reviewed Perry’s movies, plays or shows, because they’re never screened for critics. The assumption is they must be bad – and the thing is, they all kind of are. Sophomoric, melodramatic and sometimes just tacky, Perry’s writing certainly isn’t award-worthy. That’s why this next claim comes as a surprise.

“Meet the Browns” is a pretty decent movie.

Admittedly, the film is all old-hat. Single-parent struggles against familial bonding mark all of Perry’s films. “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “Daddy’s Little Girls” all did this. But maybe that’s a good thing. There’s a sincerity to “Meet the Browns” that’s untouchable.

The tragically underrated Angela Bassett (“Akeelah and the Bee”) is a single mother named Brenda living in the slums of Chicago. Trying to raise three kids after losing a job and not getting any child support from the kids’ father, Brenda’s got it rough. But with the arrival of a letter and some tickets to Georgia, Brenda meets the family she never knew she had and learns some things along the way. Add some kooky relatives, a great Atlantic Records soundtrack and the gospel-instilled kindness of the South, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

OK, so it does sound familiar. Lifetime Network, anyone? But in all fairness, this film has heart and soul, plain and simple. By taking some good old-fashioned themes and placing them in a contemporary drama, “Meet the Browns” feels like a throwback. Bad things do happen in this film (a son gets shot, for Pete’s sake), but not without purpose.

Without being incredibly preachy, “Meet the Browns” is all about family values. Yeah, it almost makes you shudder in this day and age, but watch this film and try not to feel a little guilty. Brenda’s flat broke, but a new family she’s never heard of takes her in, takes care of her and gives her a sense of completion and understanding that she thought impossible.

The kindness of strangers, the importance of sticking it out with your family and the willingness to trust other people are all key themes here. Perry should be acknowledged for trying to promote positive ideas amid familial crisis and screwball comedy. This film proves that his skills are improving as a director. He’s not the spastic wanderer of yore.

Angela Bassett also deserves recognition for her strong work here. The Academy Award nominee (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”) shows the maternal instincts of an unsure but ultimately strong mother, which we really don’t see enough in film. She rejects her ex-beau’s advances to maintain her integrity. She makes sure her son gets to play basketball, but not without ensuring he gets an education. At the same time, she’s not afraid to indulge her femininity and fall in love with a truly decent man.

Sure, pistol-packing granny and stock Perry character Madea (played by Perry himself) makes a cameo for no reason. Characterization is flawed when you have catchphrase-spewing uncles. We’ve seen these kinds of dramas before. But Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns” isn’t half bad. It’s actually quite pleasingly wholesome.

3 Stars

Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns

At Showcase and Quality 16

Lionsgate

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