For Colored Girls Directed by: Tyler Perry Cast: Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Janet Jackson, Macy Gray, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, Michael Ealy Running Time: 2 hrs 14 mins Rating: R Release Date: November 5, 2010
PLOT: Multiple women of different backgrounds and directions are united by their struggles in this adaptation of a stage play by Ntozake Shange, originally called "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf."
WHO'S IT FOR? Perry’s loyal audience will find this to be his bleakest story yet, and they should be fine-tuned enough for the melodramatic decisions that Perry makes with this adaptation. Outsiders to the Tyler Perry universe are a toss-up, as the film's themes, not to mention its sincerity, are bound to work for some more than others, regardless of their race or gender.
EXPECTATIONS: If I'm not mistaken, this is the first Tyler Perry movie to be officially screened for critics. Perhaps this film, with its loaded cast and respected source material, would force Tyler Perry to take back his joke about never being able to speak at the Oscars?
Loretta Devine as Juanita: She’s got the best performance in the film, even if her conflict is the least devastating (a man possibly cheating is tame stuff in Perry's universe). Devine is also the best at balancing the element of acting in a film that is both cinematic and theatrical, as her monologues feel the most naturally delivered. Score: 7
Kimberly Elise as Crystal: Of all the tragedies that occur to the women in the film, Crystal's might be the worst. Her overall performance is very weepy - she has the biggest tear count of any other person on-screen. Broken and beaten down, Elise does not let her performance become too melodramatic, regardless as to how Perry posits the events that affect her character. Score: 6
Thandie Newton as Tangie: At times her performance as a self-destructive strumpet can have bits a ham, but ultimately this turn represents some courage for Newton. We rarely see Newton with such a ferocious nature, even if she's not entirely sure how to sell it. Score: 5
Whoopi Goldberg as Alice: A woman caught up in her radical religious beliefs, we don't get a lot of background on this character, nor an understanding of what has made her so crazy. She has an aggressive scene with Thandie Newton, but hardly a memorable moment on her own. Score: 4
Rest of Cast: The amount of "main" characters in the film makes it a bit overwhelming. While the implementation of multiple women helps the story cover a whole spectrum of issues, it also makes them hard to keep up with, especially if they seem more defined by their drama than actual characteristics. Macy Gray has a striking cameo as a grody abortionist, Janet Jackson plays a cold successful woman with a big attitude problem, and Tessa Thompson provides an at-times heart-breaking performance as a girl forced into maturity through uncomfortable events. As for the men in the film, Tyler Perry still struggles to provide them with the same coloring as his women. They're often simple one-track creatures (who wear wife-beaters), and do cold things as if they were programmed do them, like robots. The worst example is Michael Ealy's character Beau Willie. Score: 5
TALKING: When it comes to the entire script, the difference between what Perry did and didn't write is made most obvious by the dialogue. A good (and sad) chunk of Perry’s dialogue, feels artificials (which I assume are the casual interactions between characters). Perry’s implementation of the monologues from the stage play appear too faithful, as he lets his characters break into their long-winding speeches, whether they exceed our attention spans or even work at all. It’s something to adjust to, and a reasonable comfortableness with this does not come within the film until after Devine has had a couple of monologues of her own. Score: 4
SIGHTS: Visually reminding his audience that this used to be a stage play, the cinematography of the movie is stubbornly theatrical. Long takes work in some instances to fluidly melt different characters into each others lives. In other instances it is not true to the film medium, and For Colored Girls puts itself into an awkward visual spot, like the previous play-adaptation Jack Goes Boating. At times, For Colored Girls has its own life as a film. In other occasions, especially with certain character blocking, it feels like watching a staged version of this script might be a better idea. Score: 5
SOUNDS: Some of the soundtrack choices work while others don’t. An operatic piece sounds a tad too glorious to be featured in an abrupt scene of sexual abuse. At the same time, the usage of Nina Simone and Leona Lewis in the closing credits leaves the film with a warming coda, much like the implementation of Labelle’s “It Took A Long Time” in last year’s Precious soundtrack. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: Devine's final monologue, which has her speaking out with great self-pride against cheating partner Frank. It's the film's most powerful moment because of its tremendous spirit.
ENDING: A rainbow is formed in the night, with these women of certain colors finally all coming together.
QUESTIONS: How did the original stage play handle such events? How far off am I as an outsider to the stage play when it comes to deciphering what has been added and what has not? And more to the point, will Tyler Perry ever make a truly great film?
REWATCHABILITY: For Colored Girls is not one of Perry's worst movies, but a second viewing feels like it would be laborious. This isn't the type of film you revisit for entertainment value.
Gifted with such a cast, the weakest player in For Colored Girls is writer-director Tyler Perry. He has such a strong group of actors, and forces them to function in these melodramatic characters, while serving up his bad bunches of dialogue.
Perry's desire to represent every horrifying issue that could haunt his now-simple title characters becomes inauthentic with his near trademark story left turns. Such melodramatic moments, which seem to be birthed from lazy storytelling more than the desire to poignantly shock his audience, have reduced the tangibility of his past films before, and they continue to do so here. If and when you watch For Colored Girls, you’ll know what I mean. There’s more than one example. Whereas the horror of such events can be very real and affecting, Perry’s handling of them is almost the exact opposite. While one can imagine that Perry is aiming to affect his audience, it often seems like he just really wants us to share in the many, many tears shed by his characters.
Perry needs control with his tone. Whereas his previous stories have found some light in their religious conclusions, or provided their focused characters with some type of answer, his mission to be do bleak drama becomes overwhelming. He doesn’t resolve these stories, or provide them with enough hope. Instead, he dumps this supposed rainbow into uncertain darkness.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10