a Keith Barbee piece
Tyler Perry's film adaptation of Ntozake Shange's choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf is HEAVY. Really heavy. Mr. Perry challenges an astute group of women to delve into the depths of darkness and highlight social ills including rape, HIV, and abortion. Lighter fare includes foolish love and promiscuity, if such things can be considered light. The ladies tackle those issues with an agility reserved for Wonder Woman but bequeathed upon women the world over.
Unlike Ms. Shange's play in which the women were represented by color, here Mr. Perry bestows names upon them. Janet Jackson's red comes alive in her dress, her shoe bottoms, and roses. I would have liked to see more of that color inclusion with the other characters. Perhaps a yellow carnation in Anika Noni Rose's hair, an orange cocktail ring on the slim fingers of Thandie Newton's sex-crazed Tangie, or Tessa Thompson's youthful Nyla with a purple streak in her curly locs. Many argue that Perry's interjection of Shange's poems within the film are awkward and amiss. Clearly translating poetry to film is a difficult feat. I'm not upset with Perry's attempt.
Mr. Perry is still a work in progress. In more capable hands, For Colored Girls would be worthy of the premature Oscar buzz that it is garnering. To be clear, Mr. Perry has crafted his best movie to date. Oscar-worthy, it is not. A pivotal scene involving Kimberly Elise, Michael Ealy, and their children magnifies how much Perry has to learn; especially where restraint is involved. Elise is brilliant as a keep-your-head-above-water mom and assistant. Ealy is also deft in his portrayal of Elise's childhood sweetheart, a veteran affected by the tragedies of war with no homecoming welcome. One doesn't need to see what ultimately happens in order to know it was about to happen. Therein, the microscope focuses on Perry's novice direction.
The film has a Crash-ish aesthetic that doesn't quite resonate in the same manner. The characters are essentially in the same neighborhood, moving about and touching up against each other's lives without actually intermingling. But at the point that their lives collide, the "crash" comes across anti-climatic and forced. Novice writing is illuminated here.
Phylicia Rashad is the gauge by which all the other performances can be judged. Rashad is brilliant as the nosey neighbor cum voice of reason. In a latter scene with Elise, Rashad triumphantly challenges Elise's character to take responsibility. In that moment, Rashad's character turns a corner. She morphs from busy body to matriarch of the film.
in her minuscule but memorable role. Janet Jackson is good here because not much is required of her. Her icy editrix takes its cues from Meryl Streep's in The Devil Wears Prada. Ms. Jackson, however, is no Meryl Streep. Loretta Devine pulls from her sassy seductress of Waiting to Exhale for lovelorn Juanita.
To Perry's credit, he assembled a powerhouse of African American actresses who brought their A game. Unfortunately, these masters of their craft were left to breathe life into the work of a budding novice.