Memo to: Tyler Perry
Re: “The Family That Preys”
Dude, what made you refuse to screen your film for critics before it opened Friday? I’m betting you would have received an earful of praise for your writing and directing.
Praise for the sweet relationship between Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates as mothers occasionally shamed by their children. Praise for making venality your dominant theme without falling into the ditch of soap opera. Praise for constructing characters whose yearning for more rings true. Praise for integrating your cast without using race as a crutch. (You’re forgiven for the moment when Woodard, as Alice, the owner of a struggling diner, sees the new car that Bate’s Charlotte, a wealthy matriarch, has bought and says: “I never saw you drive. Where’s Morgan Freeman?”)
Rather than having raised suspicions that the film was a dog, you’d have enjoyed reviews complimenting you on the strong characters: Sanaa Lathan as Alice’s eldest daughter, sleeping her way to the top of a construction company; Rockmond Dunbar, the daughter’s clueless construction-worker husband; Cole Hauser as Charlotte’s calculating son who wants to throw Mama from the board of directors. And, of course, you being Tyler Perry, you gave yourself a role as the one voice of sanity, a best friend who counsels against wanting too much. He is ignored.
The film takes off when Woodard’s and Bates’ characters go on a “Thelma & Louise"-style road trip. Back home, more mischief breaks out: Secrets are uncovered, alliances formed. The two return in time to give lectures that no parent should have to give to an adult child. “My family has been known to prey on the weak,” Charlotte confesses. “You can’t make yourself happy bringing misery to other people,” Alice tells her eldest daughter.
Nor can a filmmaker make himself happy by assuming the worst. Next time, Mr. Perry, trust your instincts.
“The Family That Preys.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic material, sexual references and brief violence. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. In general release.