“Dirty Laundry” may be written and directed by Maurice Jamal, but it belongs to Loretta Devine. Taking control of what would otherwise be a trite and preachy fable about the need for African American families to accept their gay brethren, Devine builds a jolly and touching character from the stock figure of a Georgia mom coming to terms with her disaffected gay son. Jamal designs his family comedy to make the medicine go down smoothly, but it will be interesting to see if the pic breaks out beyond gay and lesbian fests to be embraced by black auds.
Returning to his home from Gotham, snooty Sheldon (Rockmond Dunbar) is hit with the news from mother Evelyn (Devine) that he has a 10-year-old son named Gabriel (Aaron Grady Shaw). Sheldon has kept his gay identity a secret from his conservative and religious clan, but is so clearly different from everyone else around him (he insists, to everyone’s mystification, on being called “Patrick”) that it should be obvious something is going on.
Pic is broken into chapters, one of which flashes back to Sheldon/Patrick’s life in the big city, where he has a b.f. (Joey Costello’s Ryan) and a cushy job as a staff writer on a swank magazine. Sheldon’s firing at the magazine is none too convincing, and when mama calls from down South, he obediently answers her call to come home, lying to Ryan that he’s visiting relatives in France.
Jamal (who also plays Sheldon’s bitter blue-collar brother) does all he can to milk social comedy out of the clash between opposites inside African American culture, but his efforts tend to produce broad stereotypes rather than deeply felt comic creations. As Evelyn’s floridly self-centered sister Lettuce, Jenifer Lewis plays every moment like she’s working the back row of seats. Devine, by contrast, feels Evelyn’s entire range of emotions, from shock and surprise to eventual acceptance, and with a masterful sense of how to make even the corniest lines work to her advantage. Dunbar is forced into the unenviable position of reacting much of the time, but has a few nice asides with young Shaw.
Visually dull, without an ounce of cinematic purpose, pic will work most effectively on the small screen.