Being too comfortable in a dress may have helped the new king of black Hollywood to learn a few things about what women desire. Director/Writer/Actor Tyler Perry manages to orchastrate his cast headlined by Academy Award winner Kathy Bates and Academy Award nominee Alfre Woodard in this scandally delicious contemporary drama of two very different families being torn apart by greed in The Family That Preys.
The sixth feature film by Perry chronicles the inner workings of two interesting families that have been joined together by love, lies and lust. Bates play Charlotte Cartwright, a wealthy Southern belle who’s socialite status has afforded her to live the American Dream. Her best friend is Alice Pratt (Woodard) is a working class woman with high ideals. Their families are linked upon the marriage of Pratt’s eldest daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) to new husband Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) as provided by the Pratt family trust.
Perry is blessed with this gifted veteran cast and his Madea-free script allows the cast to blossom in their roles. The plot thickens when Charlotte spoiled son, William (Cole Hauser), engages in an elicit affair with Andrea. Unbeknownst to the audience and both families, the affair is mildly hinted with subtle reference that when executed has mixed results.
In one scene, Chris – an optimistic and hopeful construction worker with dreams of having more – comes to see his wife after finding out that she has some money stashed away. Andrea tries to shoo him out of the office, but her boss, William, comes in to spoil the mood. In a dramatic flair of ego and cockiness, William is assured in his confidentiality agreement with Andrea, Chris’ wife, and even takes time to entertain his whimsical dreams of fancy and forward movement. The joke comes where William says, “Tell my 2 o’clock that I’ll be 15 minutes late,” and the secretary conveniently calls Andrea seconds after the two bosom buddies to let her know that “the boss” will be 15 minutes late.
It is with that where Perry wins. Past moments of brillance in Why Did I Get Married and Diary of a Mad Black Woman hint at Perry’s keen sense at being able to punctuate a moment, but in other times, he allows the joke to run on too long. Dunbar is as blind as Stevie Wonder in his role as Chris and cannot see what seems to be in front of everyone’s face until it’s too late. A clear sign that all the character’s development is not balanced and correlating truly to the story.
But the affairs and dramatics aside, love and faith – two of Perry’s most common themes – are the driving force behind The Family That Preys. Bates and Woodard blend seamlessly as women from two different sides of the coin who come together amidst a secret of grave purportions. Their unifed strength goes against the grain amongst two houses divided.
The softer moments in the film are subdued and provide a much needed balance to the ‘Ooooh, no you didn’t!” moments that are subliminally and overtly filled throughout this movie. Taraji P. Henson plays baby sister, Pam, who’s the spiritual and physical motivator within the Pratt family. But when the fireworks go off, there aren’t too many people who can deliver dramatics quite like Mr. Tyler ‘Madea’ Perry.
All in all, if Perry has the keys to Hollywood – no matter how he got in – they can no longer turn him away and if he continues to make films with such diversity and style like The Family That Preys – he may have converted some new followers.