This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Tyler Perry's "Madea" franchise, based on his popular one-man shows, is an unstoppable juggernaut with a built-in audience. It features the adventures and mishaps of one "Aunt Madea", played by Perry himself in drag. Madea is a road-of-least-resistance truth-talking loud-mouthed granny enveloped in gigantic muumuus and surrounded by dimwit members of her own family who either cower in fear of her, or underestimate her ability to cut through their malarkey. She is a living Ms. Malaprop of Perry's alternate universe, spouting homespun grammatically incorrect wisdom, and if you can't stand being in her presence then the Madea movies will be a nightmare. I happen to find the schtick rather funny, especially when her eyes go dead and flat at the same time that she laughingly bull dozes her way into the heart of a situation. She has no illusions about anyone. Please. Those died a long time ago. But the surrounding schtick of the movies? There we run into problems. It's heavy with unvarnished propaganda, and trucks in broad stereotypes and manipulative pulling of the heart strings. So it's a mixed and annoying bag, and "A Madea Christmas" is no different.
The story told here is both simple and mind-bendingly complex. First, there's the opening scene with Madea dressed up in a Santa suit, being roped into working at an upscale department store by her niece Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford), who appears to be a straight-up sociopath. Things do not go well, when Madea straight-talks a poor plump woman who wants to buy some lingerie and also takes personal phone calls while standing at her station. Madea is fired, and she storms out of the store huffing and puffing. Meanwhile, exposition is thrown at us in messy splotches. Eileen is upset that her daughter Lacey, who has moved to a small town in Alabama to teach at an elementary school, is not coming home for Christmas. Eileen wants to go surprise her for Christmas, but there is the small problem that Eileen does not drive. Lucky for Eileen, Lacey (Tika Sumpter) is deeply embroiled in her own plot-heavy situation, involving a thwarted Christmas Jubilee (no funds!), and an encounter with a yearning ex-boyfriend (JR Lemon) who just happens to work for a big corporation which is looking to sponsor just such an event, and they are ready to hand over an appalling $100,000 to the school. He, in the hopes that he can spark up his old romance with Lacey, decides to drive down to Alabama with the contract in person, and so Eileen and Madea hitch a ride.
You got all that?
But there are more plot twists. Lacey has secretly eloped with a white man named Conner (Eric Lively), and he is the main reason Lacey does not want to come home for Christmas. Her mother, as Lacey tells Conner, has a bad heart and all these dreams for her daughter and marrying a white man is not part of the plan and her mother very well may have a heart attack upon hearing the news. Unfortunately, Conner's parents are also visiting for Christmas (they are played, entertainingly, by Larry the Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy, upping the weird factor considerably), and the two cars holding the in-laws-unknown-to-one-another arrive at Lacey and Conner's house within minutes of one another. Lacey, trapped in her web of lies, ropes in her new in-laws to keep up the facade that Conner is just a hired man until she can figure out a way to break the bad news to Mom.