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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes
– Span of the Rainbow Original Interactive Documentary
– Prism of Poems
- Transformation: Movie Magic
– Living Portraits
– Music For Colored Girls”
It’s Waiting To Exhale meets Def Poetry Jam.
Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Macy Gray, Michael Ealy, Omari Hardwick, Richard Lawson, Hill Harper, Khalil Kain
Adapting the original play from Ntozake Shange, Tyler Perry takes a look at the intertwining lives of nine Black women. For Colored Girls deals with many issues facing women of color including relationships with men and family, abortion, STDs, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and feminism.
I’ve never read any of Ntozake Shange’s work; but from what I understand, adapting her best known piece, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf was a difficult prospect at best. Set as a series of 20 poems read by seven women of color – literally, as the characters are Lady in Yellow, Lady in Red, Lady in Purple, etc. – the project centers on Black women’s experiences dealing with rape, abandonment, domestic violence and abortion among others. Crafting a film narrative that incorporates all or most of those poems would seem to be next to impossible.
Subsequently, whether you hate Tyler Perry or live for his work (in which case there’s a better than average chance you’re a Black woman), his taking a crack at this work is a mixed result, mostly for the negative. For Colored Girls isn’t his best work (that would be The Family That Preys), but it is his most ambitious, and his best-shot project. And that’s probably the best thing that can be said about it. Because with nine main characters, For Colored Girls is way too busy, and the narrative skeleton on which Perry hangs Shange’s poetry falls into the same pits that several of his other projects do: it has little new to offer in the genre and in fact retreads many of its conventions.
It also champions feminism by completely plowing under men. Save for Hill Harper, every male figure in this film is a shitbag of varying degree. Michael Ealy’s Beau is an unemployed, alcoholic veteran with PTSD, anger issues and a domestic abuser, Richard Lawson’s Frank is a recidivist cheater prone to abandonment, Omari Hardwicke’s Carl is a down low closeted homosexual and embezzler, and Khalil Kain’s Bill is a rapist. As for Harper, his Donald is a squared-away cop dealing with his wife’s (Kerry Washington) inability to conceive. One of these men does something so completely heinous, it’s beyond shocking.
As for the numerous ladies of the piece, can I first please request that Janet Jackson and Perry never work together again? Their three collaborations to date (Why Did I Get Married, Why Did I Get Married Too) are just the most joyless displays going in film today. I love Ms. Jackson but the characters that Perry have given her are just insufferable. Jackson’s Jo / Red is a successful but cold and bitchy magazine editor who can’t be bothered with the lives and problems of those around her, particularly her assistant, Crystal / Brown (Elise). Elise gives the most gut-wrenching and deeply affecting performance of the film. The unbelievably heinous thing occurs to her and when it does, it quite simply rips your heart out and stomps on it…with 1″ cleats.
Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson and Whoopi Goldberg portray a family just slightly less screwed up than if Dina Lohan had adopted Britney and Jamie-Lynn Spears. Newton is Tangie / Orange, a promiscuous bartender who needs intimacy with strange men on a nightly basis to feel anything outside of contempt for herself and her mother, Alice / White. And Thompson is younger sister, Nyla / Purple, a promising 16-year-old who has to deal with a bun in the oven. Her back alley resolution of the situation only makes things worse. Anika Noni Rose gives one of the better performances as Yasmine / Yellow, a dance instructor who is raped. Kerry Washington is Kelly / Blue, a social worker involved with both Crystal’s and Nyla’s cases, and who is unable to have children due to choices made when she was younger. Washington valiantly tries to give her some heft, but Kelly is, in the grand scheme of things, mostly a connector to disparate elements of the story.
Ironically, as For Colored Girls could be considered a de facto sequel to Waiting To Exhale, Loretta Devine bridges the films as Juanita / Green. Juanita is a nurse and community center administrator who struggles with her own weaknesses concerning her on-again, off-again relationship with Frank, who cheats on her and repeatedly leaves her for the other woman. Phylicia Rashad is surprisingly good as the manager of the apartment building where Crystal and Tangie both live and the glue of the film. Her Gilda is nicely understated and sage without being cliche. Finally, Goldberg is also good as Alice / White, Tangie and Nyla’s mother who went full-on Gunga Din cultist Jesus freak. She’s easily the craziest character of the piece.
Just running down all of those characters gives you an idea of a major problem with the film. Perry tries to squeeze every bit of Shange’s work into his story that he possibly can. But it comes out like an overstuffed sausage, transitioning from one vignette update of a character to the next, with pit stops for Shange’s Def Poetry Jam with her characters. Those are the meat of the film, but Perry’s tendons are overused dramatic staples such as cheating, going back again and again to destructive relationships and domestic abuse. Perry has used some of them himself in his other movies. And again, the man-bashing is just a put off. If that’s in Shange’s original work then so be it, but according to Perry, 99% of the brothers in the metro area are wolves and dogs and he puts them down as such. So some judicious editing of the source material, some paring of the characters and less reliance on the tired “men are bad” theme might have produced a better result.
The disc looks and sounds fine in Dolby 5.1. Its special features include Span of the Rainbow, an original interactive documentary that features video, text and photo narration. Prism of Poems is a feature whereby you can get poems from the movie or the book in video. Transformation: Movie Magic is a more conventional 15-minute making of featurette. Music For Colored Girls is a series of three musical montages from the film. And the Marketing Archive includes trailers and Living Portraits, which is a tour through a gallery of portraits of the actresses from the film and their words. A couple of pretty interesting ways to present the material of the movie, particularly Living Portraits and Span of the Rainbow. Perry fans should enjoy this disc quite a bit.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars