If it's crap ... We'll tell you
In 1966 Jersey girl Paulette L. Williams left for college and took a walk on the wild side. In the span of the first few years she was married, divorced, attempted suicide and changed her name to Ntozake Shange. From this she moved to New York City in 1975 and wrote a 20-part poem that chronicled the lives of Black women in the United States titled,”For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf”. This poem was made into the stage play which became a huge hit on and off broadway, won a number of awards, was published in book form in 1977. Thirty years later Tyler Perry dusted it off to make the movie, FOR COLORED GIRLS…though, I suspect his copy never had a chance to gather dust.
Integrating the vivid language of Shange’s poems into a contemporary narrative that explores what it means to be a woman of color - and a woman of any color - in this world, FOR COLORED GIRLS weaves together the stories of nine different women (originally only seven women and each only referred to as “Lady in X-color of the rainbow”) as they move into and out of one another’s existences; some are well known to one another, others are as yet strangers. Crises, heartbreaks and crimes will ultimately bring these nine women fully into the same orbit where they will find commonality and understanding. Each will speak her truth as never before. And each will know that she is complete as a human being, glorious and divine in all her colors.
Tyler Perry takes the separate stories of the seven characters from the book and weave them into one story of nine whose lives eventually intersect with each other’s.
Alice/White (Whoopi Goldberg)
Tangie/Orange (Thandie Newton)
Crystal/Brown (Kimberly Elise)
Gilda/Gray (Phylicia Rashad)
Kelly/Blue (Kerry Washington)
Juanita/Green (Loretta Devine)
Yasmine/Yellow (Anika Noni Rose)
Nyla/Purple (Tessa Thompson)
and Joann/Red (Janet Jackson):
Watching FOR COLORED GIRLS you see so many elements of his previous movies – a mix of humor, drama and tackling everything from rape, runaway men, infertility, abortion, contraception ignorance to mental and physical abuse. It’s clear that THIS is the movie he’s been trying to make his entire career and I would echo other critics in claiming that it’s his masterpiece. His directing is more accomplished; he pulls outstanding performances from his actors (especially Philicia Rashad and Thandie Newton) and backs off his usual slapstick antics for humor that isn’t so cheap. There’s also a refreshing lack of musical numbers and calls to Jesus.
Now, while FOR COLORED might be Tyler Perry’s masterpiece, it is NOT a masterpiece in itself- mostly, due the fact that…well, Tyler Perry is Tyler Perry and he hasn’t yet learned to get out of his own way. FOR COLORED GIRLS does so many things right but then does too much. As with most of his movies, Tyler Perry isn’t content until he can crowbar in EVERY social ill plaguing the African American community..Much like his last drama, WHY DID I GET MARRIED, TOO?, just as this movie reaches what feels like a comfortable ending it tacks on another 15 minutes of pure histrionics. So much so that when babies are tossed out of a window it’s more comical than tragic.
Another rogue element that COLORED GIRLS shares with WDIGM2 is Janet Jackson. I don’t know what blood pact she and Tyler Perry signed with the devil or each other, but once again she hijacks the movie for the most tacked on scenes. Most of the posters I’ve seen for COLORED GIRLS feature her alone, despite the fact the she has the least amount of screen time. Her character’s issues- a tough black woman running her own multinational corporation with a husband on the DL- were not hot button topics back when Shange wrote the book. It’s blatantly obvious that she was one of the two characters made up just for the movie…rather, just to give Janet Jackson a part.
It’s a small heartbreak, because prior to the last 15 minutes I was giving Tyler Perry mad props. I have a familiarity with the original ”For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” as it replaced Langston Hughes as the favorite amongst the drama club girls in my high school. Girls for whom I looked to win the favor of; with whom I spent many rehearsals with; for whom I designed the programs of their ‘For Colored Girls’ drama readings.
I was as appalled as any other fan to here that it was finally coming to the big screen only to be directed by ‘Madea’! But then I think he surprised us all by doing a god job, even down to working the poetry into the dialogue. I praise him even more so for giving a platform to many of the older black actresses that Hollywood overlooks the most (until there’s a need for another magical negro). I love that he was able to surprise me, but all the more sad that his end game fumbles makes it hard for me to shout out a big recommendation
The one silver lining is that this film shows enough improvement that I can imagine a day when reviewers won’t autonomically cringe when hearing the words “A Tyler Perry film”.
"FOR COLORED GIRLS" Blu-Ray/DVD can be purchased here.