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Dirty Laundry Reviews

Chappelle's Show alumnus Maurice Jamal wrote, directed and costars in this broad comedy about family ties and secrets, but it's driven by Loretta Devine's powerhouse performance as a tough-loving Southern matriarch. Sheldon Patrick Davis (Rockmond Dunbar) left Paris, Georgia, 10 years ago, ditched his goofy first name, and reinvented himself as a sophisticated, successful magazine writer. Patrick hasn't been back since, but his imperious mother, Evelyn (Devine), comes up with a unique way to force her wayward boy home: She puts 10-year-old Gabriel (Aaron Grady Shaw) on a plane to New York with instructions to tell his daddy he needs to visit with his family. Patrick knows Gabriel isn't his son: He's gay — one of many reasons he fled his small-town roots — and lives with his sweet-natured boyfriend Ryan (Joey Costello). But there's an unaccompanied minor at his door and, frankly, he's going through a bad spell at work, isn't getting anywhere with his novel and could use a change of scenery. So Patrick packs toiletries, fancy pajamas, and designer casual wear and goes. Evelyn, who raised her children by taking in laundry, hasn't changed: She smokes and drinks too much, talks too loudly and doesn't take any backtalk from her adult brood, which is why she won't call Sheldon "Patrick." Her daughter Jackie (Terri J. Vaughn) is back home, along with her vivacious daughter Pudge (Rainey Matthews), but is secretly plotting to get out from under her mother's thumb by going to flight-attendant school. Patrick's brother, Eugene (Jamal), who took over their late father's butcher shop, is caught in the ongoing war between Evelyn and his feisty wife (Sommore) and still smarting from childhood slights. Evelyn's sanctimonious sister, Aunt Lettuce (Jenifer Lewis), and her posse of church ladies gossip and meddle in everybody's business. And Gabriel most certainly is Patrick's son, the product of a onetime indiscretion with a besotted high-school classmate; she became a plus-size exotic dancer and died in a "freak fat-stripper accident," leaving Evelyn to raise her grandson. Skeletons come tumbling out of closets, the drama is turned up to 11, and everybody gets a lesson in something as the dirty laundry gets aired. Jamal's comedy of family dysfunction is essentially a sitcom episode writ large; it's not subtle, but it's good-natured and hits its marks with ruthless efficiency.