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Perry Christmas to all and to all… uh… what?

For the uninitiated, the Tyler Perry Cinema Universe can be daunting to sort out. But I've seen every single one of his movies so I consider myself an expert at this point. Let me help.

He generally makes three types* of films:

1. Reactionary, histrionic melodramas about women in trouble, some of which veer into unintentionally comedic territory (see: Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor; no, seriously, see it, your mind will be blown by how brain-scramblingly wrong it is).

2. Reactionary, histrionic melodramas about women in trouble that include the jarring yet welcome presence of Madea, played by Perry. Madea's job, always, is to barge in and sort everyone out with country wisdom, freaky gospel preaching, Bugs Bunny-style violence and dazzling malapropsims.

3. Madea showcases, which may or may not include touches of reactionary, histrionic melodrama. Even if the latter is part of the film, it's barely important. In these movies Madea is the focus; everything else is padding. Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas is Type 3.

A small Alabama town in financial ruin thanks to corporate interference, some angry rednecks, a secret interracial marriage, Lisa Whelchel from The Facts Of Life, duplicitous family interactions, a child singing prodigy, Sweet Brown, an agricultural scientist with permanent sex-face who never shuts up about his new strain of drought-resistant corn, Larry The Cable Guy (perfect, since he's essentially Man Madea) and somethingsomethingsomething Save Christmas.

That entire last paragraph? Irrelevant, really. This film could have included anything (and usually feels like it does) and it would all be brazenly firebombed by Madea. After the ennervating Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection, the character's future felt imperiled, as though her creator were finally bored and tired of stepping into the dress. But here Perry has found his fire again. Madea meets the Klan, mock-crucifies a misbehaving child with Christmas lights, recounts a Nativity story that borders on the blasphemous, delivers shout-outs to RuPaul's Drag Race with coded insults like "hunty" (Google it) and casually hurls clearly improvised confusion like "God will send you a dog when you need it" and "Satanic loudmouth diarhhea woman!" at her shell-shocked fellow cast members, occasionally wearing an enormous Mrs. Claus outfit to underscore… who knows, it doesn't matter.

What matters is that the character is revitalized and pushing against the boundaries Perry's built for her, like an Id that can no longer be controlled. Sense is not something Madea makes; chaos is what Madea makes. And if Perry will let go of those last obscuring elements that clearly bore him, he'll have a pure comedy maelstrom on his hands and finally prove to his detractors the weird, upside-down value of his freakish comic creation.

*Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married, Too? doesn't fit into any of these categories and is so crazy it's got its own HOV lane.


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