The Family That Preys is a 2008 American movie drama written, produced, and directed by Tyler Perry. The screenplay focuses on two families, one wealthy and the other working class, whose lives are intertwined in both love and business.
The movie is the second of four in which Perry's signature character, Madea, does not make an appearance. It is also the second Perry-directed film (alongside Daddy's Little Girls) that is not based on any of the filmmaker's stage plays.
In a prologue, socialite Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) hosts the wedding of her best friend Alice Evans' (Alfre Woodard) daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan), who is marrying ambitious construction worker Chris Bennett (Rockmond Dunbar). The couple is congratulated by Charlotte's son William (Cole Hauser) and his wife Jillian (KaDee Strickland), who deprived Charlotte of planning an elaborate reception for them by eloping. William suggests the newlyweds contact him for employment with the Cartwright family's highly successful Atlanta construction company after they return from their honeymoon.
Four years later, Ben (Tyler Perry), is married to Andrea's sister Pam (Taraji P. Henson). Pam looks after Andrea's three-year-old son for extra income while working at her mother's diner. It troubles her that Andrea doesn't do more to help their mother financially when her designer clothes and new Mercedes make it clear she is prospering. What Pam doesn't realize is her sister is involved in an extramarital affair with William and enjoying all the perks that come with the relationship.
Chris has dreams of opening his own construction firm with Ben, but Andrea - who clearly now thinks she's better than her husband because of her success - ridicules him and his aspirations. He and Ben apply for a loan at the bank and are declined, but he accidentally discovers his wife has deposited nearly $300,000 in a secret account. When Andrea returns home late one night to find Chris sorting through financial records she had hidden, she claims the money is an accumulation of bonuses she received from William and insists she has the right to keep some things private from her spouse. Telling him he never will be as charming and successful as William, she refuses to finance his dream.
William is determined to wrest control of the company from Charlotte, and is certain the $500 million deal he recently has closed will prove he's capable of running the firm. Instead, his mother hires Abby Dexter (Robin Givens) as COO. She determines the company will have to front $25 million to make William's new deal viable, and the only way to raise the money is for Charlotte to sell 10% of her shares, thus leaving her with a minority vote. William reminds Abby his vote combined with his mother's will give the Cartwrights continued control, and she advises Charlotte to sell her shares.
Charlotte suggests she and Alice take a road trip in the vintage turquoise Cadillac convertible she has purchased. Alice initially declines but eventually agrees, and the two women head west, following neither a set route nor timetable. Rambunctiously adventurous Charlotte introduces Alice to honky tonks and strip clubs with male dancers, while religiously strait-laced Alice reciprocates by bringing Charlotte to a communal baptism so her soul can be saved. Late one night, when Charlotte becomes unduly stressed while trying to deal with her digital camera, she reveals she has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease and has been told there is nothing that can be done to slow the process of her mental decline.
Meanwhile both Jillian and Abby become aware of Andrea and William's affair. Although Jillian makes a flippant remark to Chris that Andrea is with her husband, he is oblivious. William then fires both Chris and Ben after being approached for investment money to start a separate construction business on their own. Abby then fires Andrea, who has been told by Jillian to stay away from her husband William.
Charlotte and Alice return to Atlanta, where Andrea confronts and gets mad at Chris for depositing her $300,000 into a business account, the majority of which has already been distributed. She says that he is tired of him and that he and Ben will never be like William. Ben remarks that nobody is trying to be like him and that she can't see that because of the affair. Chris pulls Andrea aside and she tells him the money came from William and that he is her man. Chris, furious, slaps Andrea and she falls over the counter. He arguably says that she thinks that he was crazy. She says keep the money and throws some money in his face and says to get some boxes and get his stuff. Chris couldn't believe that after 5 years they have been married, she would talk to him like that. He wonders about their son and Andrea says that William is the father.
Meanwhile, William is plotting a takeover of the family firm. Although she and her mother-in-law never have been close, Jillian warns Charlotte about her son's plan. Charlotte then calls a board meeting and fires William from the company, telling him she has the support of the Calvary Company, until now a silent investor that turns out to be Alice, who for years has been given financial guidance by Nick Blanchett (Sebastian Siegel), a homeless man she frequently fed and cared for at her diner.
Nick's story behind his homelessness is explained earlier by Alice to her daughter Pam while at the diner. Alice explains to her that Nick had at one point been a frequent customer of Alice's who would leave her "big tips" and loved her coffee. One day Nick lost his job and not long afterward, his wife died and Nick then lost custody of his children. In an assumed severe untreated depression, Nick now lived "wherever". Nick still came into the diner on a regular basis and would repay Alice for her kindness by giving her secretly solid financial investment advice. It is later revealed that the job Nick lost had been working for William, who fired Nick without cause. William's downfall allows Nick to find some comfort as well as satisfaction/vindication.
In the parking lot, William is approached by Andrea who, unaware of the recent turn of events, expects him to back her in her battle with Abby and leave Jillian to marry her. Instead, he tells her their affair is over and drives away, despite her claim that her son is his. Alice later receives a call from Charlotte, when she tells her that she is dying of a deadly combination of pills, which causes Alice to have an emotional breakdown as she questions "are you living or existing?" Alice makes a eulogy at her funeral, which becomes a song as the movie ends with Chris leaving Andrea and Andrea moves into a small apartment with their son, whose paternity is left unresolved, Chris gives her some money then leaves her at the doorstep. However, Chris is now successful and wealthier while Andrea is poor in an ironic twist. Chris and Ben open their own firm, Nick is wealthy and buys a house of his own, and Alice decides to sell the diner. Getting into the car Charlotte left her, she resolves to stop procrastinating and enjoy life while she can and, with a photo of her and Charlotte taped to the dashboard, she heads north.
- Alfre Woodard as Alice Reynolds-Evans
- Kathy Bates as Charlotte Cartwright
- Sanaa Lathan as Andrea Evans-Bennett
- Cole Hauser as William Cartwright
- KaDee Strickland as Jillian Cartwright
- Rockmond Dunbar as Chris Bennett
- Tyler Perry as Ben
- Taraji P. Henson as Pam Evans
- Robin Givens as Abigail "Abby" Dexter
- Sebastian Siegel as Nicholas "Nick" Blanchett
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported 51% of critics gave the film positive notices, based on 37 reviews, The consensus is that Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys treads the filmmaker's established terrain of family loyalty and moral uprightness, though the occasionally predictable plot slides forward, aided by an excess of soapy melodrama. Metacritic gave it a 49/100 approval rating, based on 14 reviews.
Stephen Holden of the New York Times said, "The suds that cascade through [the film] more than equal the cubic footage from nighttime soaps like Dallas, Dynasty and their offspring. As the movie proceeds, the flow quickens into a surging flood tide of recriminations and reversals in which blows are exchanged, claws bared and tears shed . . . The Family That Preys doesnât worry about how it gets from A to Z. There is no problem that a miraculous (and preposterous) plot development canât resolve in two minutes."
The New York Daily News rated the film three out of five stars and commented, "Perry's notoriously overstuffed plots have sometimes been top-heavy, but this movie, like Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, hangs on an elegant structure that doesn't feel forced. Perry's skills as a director have improved as his casts have gotten better, and he gives the lovely Woodard one of her most satisfying roles . . . By melding the pleasures of 1950s-style melodrama . . . with equal-gender, African-American-aimed plots, Perry has found success in a niche only he now occupies. And by adding Christian tenets and modern issues . . . Perry shows he knows what his audience wants. First and foremost, that's a smart, satisfying movie experience, which Family is."
Claudia Puig of USA Today said the best thing about the film "is the opportunity it affords to watch a pair of veteran actresses still at the top of their game. Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates play best pals in this soap opera-style story, and the moments each are on-screen are undeniably the movie's best. One senses a rapport and chemistry between the women that transcends the formulaic plot."
Stephen Farber of The Hollywood Reporter observed, "Although this interracial Dynasty isn't always believable - it's a stretch to accept the lifelong friendship of the two matriarchs as well as the last-minute business coup that they engineer - there's plenty of action to keep us engrossed. Perry wears his religious faith lightly . . . and is shrewd enough to balance piety with raucous humor and lots of sinful shenanigans. Perry's filmmaking skills have improved to the level of competence, and he has assembled a dream cast."
Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel rated the film two out of five stars and called it Tyler Perry's "most cinematically polished production to date" but also "yet another example of how the mini-mogul from Atlanta is his own worst enemy, raiding his cupboard of his popular but pandering stage plays and not bothering to script doctor them for the screen. As sophisticated as the filmmaking becomes, Perry's scripts are still painfully unsophisticated grab-bags of melodramatic cliches, tired jokes and sermonizing."
Peter Debruge of Variety said the film "recycles familiar ingredients according to his own unique formula, serving up a lip-smacking, finger-snapping sudser" and added, "Perry has a tendency to overload his features, and The Family That Preys is no exception, reflecting the helmer's view that the emotional roller-coaster of life can whip its passengers from outrage to exhilaration, from belly laughs to tears in an instant, making for an exhausting yet cathartic overall experience. The result seems ideal for [audiences] who don't see too many movies, cramming enough into one film to satisfy them until the next Perry pic comes out."
Monika Fabian of Time Out New York said, "As with Perryâs other films, his Christian moralistic storytelling can be slightly off-putting â" but the solid acting and genuinely entertaining story are sure to satisfy fans, and maybe even bring in some converts."
Ken Fox of TV Guide rated the film three out of four stars and said, "Thanks to some first-rate acting from its stars, it ranks among Perry's best."
Tom Becker of DVD Verdict said, "The Family That Preys has that Love Boat kind of watchability and simplicity. Everything runs in a straight line, all endings are inevitable, and emotions and morals are no more complex than a well-timed platitude. The characters are amalgams of recognizable types plunked down in sitcom settings that elicit near-Pavlovian responses of cheers, jeers, and tears. Here and there, Perry throws us a curve ballâ"an act of physical violence presented as deserved comeuppance or a character's grim and dubiously appropriate endgameâ"but even these are not jarring enough to derail it. This is film as comfort food, and not the gourmet kind."
Brian Orndorf of DVD Talk said, "Preys" is a soap opera in the most unashamed sense, and while this aesthetic has made Perry heaps of coin, his personal screen touch remains some of the worst overall filmmaking around. The new feature is perhaps even more melodramatic than anything that's come before, taking the Andrea/William affair and using it as the inspiration for the cast to arch their eyebrows to assured cramp, flare nostrils in unintentional comedic fury, and bounce impassioned lines of dialogue off each other with medicine ball grace. It's equal parts hilarious and aggravating, with Perry showing little shame as he works the characters into pants-wetting hysteria."
Gregory Kirschling from Entertainment Weekly stated, "Tyler Perry's melodramas have a tendency to skid not only off the counter but out the kitchen and down the hall, too. The Family That Preys, his first film in six months, is all over the place: It's a boardroom/family/couples/road-trip story. Kathy Bates plays the head of an Atlanta construction company where Sanaa Lathan is a snooty exec and her husband (Rockmond Dunbar), for maximum class/race sizzle, is a worker grunt. As usual, the villains, like Lathan, are very bad, and the good guys, like Dunbar, are very noble â" until they get mad and clock their wives."
The film opened in 2,070 theaters in North America on September 12, 2008 and grossed $17,381,218 on its opening weekend, ranking #2 at the box office behind Burn After Reading. It eventually earned $37,105,289 domestically, making it the second least successful of Tyler Perry's films to date only ahead of Daddy's Little Girls.
The film was released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on January 13, 2009. It is in anamorphic widescreen format, with audio tracks and subtitles in English and Spanish. Bonus features include deleted scenes, Two Families, Two Legends, which spotlights stars Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates; Preying in the Big Easy, about filming in New Orleans; Casting the Family, with interviews with the director and cast, and Delving into the Diner, in which production designer Ina Mayhew discusses her concept for the set.
- The Family That Preys
- The Family That Preys at the Internet Movie Database
- The Family That Preys at AllMovie