Netflix has introduced global audiences to the joys of Scandi Noir, French whodunnits, Spanish heists and South Korean quiz-show torture porn. But its all-conquering machine-mind has come up against something many times more confounding in Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown, who guest stars in the new movie from African-American comedian Tyler Perry.
This is made clear if you watch A Madea Homecoming (Netflix from today) with English close-captioning on. Agnes Brown is referred to throughout as “mummy” – a strange take on a character whose persona is built on the premise they are the quintessential Dublin “mammy”. It also makes us dread the day Netflix ever gets its mitts on Nationwide or Up For The Match. What horrors would its dubbing algorithms inflict on us? What would they do to Marty Morrissey?
As for the film itself… well, O’Carroll and Perry are clearly a match forged in sitcom heaven/hell (delete according to taste).
O'Carroll offers few concessions as he steps into the Netflix-verse. Agnes Brown's first act upon wandering into the frame is to break wind
As with O’Carroll and Agnes Brown, Perry is hands-on – writing, directing and starring in the Madea films, which have to date made $600 million at the US box office.
Both comics have, moreover, found success playing ladies of a certain age (Perry has been dressing up as matriarchal Mabel “Madea” Earlene Simmons since 1999). And each specialises in irascible toilet humour, which fans adore and others generally find dreary, incomprehensible or depressing.
O’Carroll certainly offers few concessions to transatlantic sensibilities as he steps into the Netflix-verse. Agnes Brown’s first act upon wandering into the frame is to break wind. Next, she knocks on the door of an African-American woman and shouts “Wakanda Forever”.
This is followed by a drawn-out gag in which Mrs Brown urges her new friends not to get their “knickers” in a twist – and they think she is using the “n” word. You’ve probably already made up your mind whether or not this is a comedy for you.
There’s a plot, too. It turns out Agnes has a black Dutch stepson, Davi (Isha Blaaker). He’s about to graduate from college in the US. And so Agnes and daughter Cathy (O’Carroll’s wife, Jennifer Gibney) have crossed the Atlantic to surprise him.
Davi has, for his part, acquired a boyfriend – Madea’s great-grandson, Tim (Brandon Black). Tim is anxious about coming out to his family – and the arrival of Agnes and Cathy does little to sooth his nerves.
The Browns are soon breaking bread – and wind – with Madea’s family. “Hilarity” ensues as Agnes develops a fondness for Madea’s special brand of “chocolate” – it is, of course, cannabis – before a surprise revelation threatens the romance between Davi and Tim.
Perry was introduced to O’Carroll’s comedy in 2015, when working on psychological drama Brain on Fire. Its director, Listowel-native Gerard Barrett, shared with him a clip of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Perry recognised a kindred spirit.
“I looked at Brendan’s history, and our lives were on parallel tracks in different parts of the world, with him doing live plays and then going into television too,” Perry told Variety. “So, I thought these two worlds colliding would be amazing.”
O’Carroll is, in a way, the perfect Netflix star. The world’s biggest streaming company doesn’t care about negative reviews or the disdain of comedy purists. And it has done very well from working with Adam Sandler and Perry (this is his second Madea feature for the streamer) and their “fnar, fnar” milieu of chortles.
If A Madea Homecoming is puerile it wears its feelings on its sleeve, too. Perry has described it as a celebration of family. It also deals with subjects such as the Black Lives Matter movement – one member of Madea’s extended family is a policewoman – and the pandemic. In the dynamic between Davi and Tim the movie meanwhile explores the issue of young African-Americans coming out to their parents and siblings. The film’s funny bone might occasionally go missing – and yet its heart is in the right place.
“In the black culture especially – we’ve gotten a lot better – but someone in the family coming out or being gay was so taboo,” Perry explained to Variety. “To have a character come out and be embraced and loved by the family, it sends a powerful message.”
It's gross-out, infantile and about as sophisticated as a Temple Bar stag party who've just won a lifetime supply of whoopee cushions
These are obviously laudable aims – and dovetail with the sincerity running though O’Carroll’s work (the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Specials always conclude with an ardent message to viewers).
That being said, if you’re not a fan of comedians in a car breaking wind, then A Madea Homecoming may feel like an hour and 46 minutes of unexpurgated pain.
It’s gross-out, infantile and about as sophisticated as a Temple Bar stag party who’ve just won a lifetime supply of whoopee cushions. But that is, of course, the formula that has already made O’Carroll one of Ireland’s wealthiest entertainers. If Netflix can sort out its close captioning and get its head around the concept of the “Irish mammy”, he might be unstoppable.