For Colored Girls (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

For Colored Girls (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEI respect the hell out of Tyler Perry.  The man has made many movies with positive messages, a non-prejudicial use of spirituality and Christianity, and a number of strong female characters.  They're not always great films and he's not exactly a unique talent as a director (yet), but as a storyteller who is clearly trying to make a difference with his art he puts himself out there in a way that few others do.

His latest project has him trying to adapt the stage play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuff by Ntozake Shange (the title was shortened to For Colored Girls for theaters).  The play, unseen by myself, consists of a number of monologues interwoven together to form a single poetic piece.  There are a number of performers, all women, who represent a color and tell their stories of living as a colored girl and what that means.  The movie is as straightforward an adaptation as Tyler Perry could manage, transposing those monologues into dramatic arcs and filming them in New York City mostly around an apartment complex where they all live.

There are few things I have to fault his film on, though ambition certainly isn't one of them.  Visually, For Colored Girls is hardly dynamic.  The unfortunate drawback of Tyler Perry's success is that he's fallen into a fairly simple directing pattern of shot/reverse shot conversations and some straightforward tracking shots.  That's fine since too much flash with the material would be devastating.  But he also has problems keeping the various stories in check with one another and finding ways for them to relate narratively.

A few sequences, like this tense and painful back room abortion moment, show promise for Tyler Perry as a director.

Therein lies the biggest challenge and another drawback of the movie.  Since the source material consists of a series of monologues that dialogue has to be converted to a more traditional setting.  This makes for a number of awkward moments where the characters are speaking extensively in the third person about people standing in the room with them or about themselves.  On stage that works just fine, but put into a "real world" setting it kills the tone of sympathy and realism that the film is trying to accomplish.

But despite those intellectual objections that I have regarding the film I can't deny that many moments and segments worked with a scale of pain and beauty that he was striving for.  Most of the credit really has to go to the performers assembled to tell the story of the women and it's one hell of a cast.  We've got Whoopi Goldberg, Thandi Newton, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Anika Noni Rose and Tessa Thompson.  That's already an impressive assemblage of talent and the dialogue and situations they are asked to perform in are more than adequately suited for their skills.

Most of the film is pitched at the level of high melodrama that Perry is drawn to direct, details that I can recall so vividly because of the strength and resolve in each woman's performance.  I think of the conflict between mother and daughter as mom tells her daughter she's going to hell and the daughter can barely defend herself or say otherwise.  I think of the woman forced to give an account of her rape that subtly frames the situation as her "asking for it" and then her angry and defiant response.  I think of a young girl telling us of her first sexual experience and the delight it brought her.

Thandie Newton is especially effective as a woman embrace the pleasures and penalties of rage and lust.

Each performance is stellar , touching on different shades of rage, lust, happiness, grief - the full rainbow of human expression.  Ntozake Shange's words flow effortlessly out during the best moments but Tyler Perry's for the screen contributions fare a bit differently.  The play had no male characters and they feel awkwardly inserted here as well as playing into his typical characterization (either the man is an unredeemable rapist or a paragon of good).  But one of his screen specific characters, the apartment caretaker played by Phylicia Rashad, comments and assists with just gentle warmth and goodness that I was moved to tears several times by her actions.

In another bit of great/horribly duality Tyler Perry's love for melodrama gets the best of him.  It works great in the dance and musical sequences that call for physical expression to match the musical and emotional tones that everyone is feeling.  But in other sequences, particularly a moment where two lives hang on by a thread, are undone by his melodramatic love and feel silly instead of affecting.  That sequence in particular approaches tastelessness by accidentally recalling Cliffhanger at exactly the wrong moment.

There is no doubt in my mind that the play is a more comprehensive and satisfying experience.  But Tyler Perry really tried pushing his limits by making this play into a film as affecting and daring as this.  It is not perfect and shows it's theatrical limitations far too often but dammit if I'm not looking forward to seeing how so many might be able to grow after touching and seeing this material.  Life is rarely affirmed with as much confident resolution as it is with these women and I'm grateful for the opportunity to partake in that.

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For Colored Girls (2010)

Screenplay and direction by Tyler Perry.
Based on the play by Ntozake Shange.
Starring an ensemble cast featuring Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Devine, Phylicia Rashad and many others.

Posted by Andrew

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