Where has Angela Bassett been? An A-list, Oscar-nominated actress who seemed to have a promising career ahead of her ten years ago, Bassett has all but disappeared in the decade since her star-making turn as Tina Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It. Bassett pops up occasionally in supporting roles like the mother of Biggie Smalls in the upcoming Biggie biopic Notorious or in self-produced cable projects like Ruby's Bucket of Blood. But she has yet to appear in another lead role worthy of her proven talents.
It is unfortunate that in her first significant lead role in years, Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns, Bassett is badly miscast. In Browns Bassett plays Brenda, a single mom struggling to raise her three children with no help in the Chicago projects. When Brenda gets laid off she decides to accept an invitation from some long lost family members to the funeral of the father she never knew in his small Georgia home town. In the south Brenda receives encouragement from her eccentric family and falls in love with a local basketball coach (Rick Fox) who sees a future in the pros for Brenda's son, Michael (Lance Gross).
That's all fine and good. With the right casting it might even be enough to make for a decent, if extremely redundant, Perry movie. But who wants to see Bassett playing 'cute' as she acts out the usual beats of falling in love -- eating cotton candy at carnivals and cooing over teddy bears that have been won for her? Bassett fans want to see her kick some butt by getting revenge on her no-good-cheating husband or rising up as the spokesperson for her downtrodden people to reclaim their dignity. With her ferocious strength and regal poise, Basset is the female Denzel Washington. So, where is her Glory? Her Training Day?
Substantive lead roles for women in Hollywood are slim pickins, even for white actresses. It's odd enough watching Hollywood shoehorn the brittle Reese Witherspoon or the fiery Kate Winslet into silly-girl-rom-coms, but Bassett is so underutilized playing sweet and cloying that to ask her to do so in Meet the Browns is a terrible mistake. Bassett does the best she can with a role for which she's completely ill-suited, but her talent and beauty are not enough to compensate for the many problems in this deeply flawed movie.
Casting aside, there is very little that works about Meet the Browns. The story is slow, unfocused and rarely funny. And for a comedy that's supposed to be about an eccentric family there are surprisingly few memorable moments involving the Brown clan. Madea only appears in the movie for one throwaway scene that is so tacked on and irrelevant to the story its inclusion creates genuine confusion. In an interview Perry claims that he included the one Madea scene as a teaser for his upcoming movie Madea Goes to Jail, but this is no excuse for so poorly integrating a popular character that will likely be the main reason many fans go to see Browns.
Meet the Browns is being marketed as a romantic family movie, but in fact the story gets so weighed down by a heavy-handed subplot concerning Brenda's attempts to keep her son Michael from becoming a drug dealer that the film ends up playing more as an after-school-special from the '80s. Perry is no stranger to clichés, but with Browns there's something lazy about many of his choices, as if he's just going through the motions instead of genuinely working through something that he's passionate about. Browns could have been made at any point in Perry's career for all the progression it shows in terms of writing, directing, or personal vision.
After stepping slightly out of his usual formula with Daddy's Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married it looked promising that Perry was beginning to branch out into fresh storylines and themes. He hasn't. Meet the Browns is a clear step backward.