Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington, Macy Gray, Michael Ealy, Phylicia Rashad
Ntozake Shange (Play), Tyler Perry, Nzingha Stewart
"Span of the Rainbow" Original Interactive Documentary• Prism of Poems• Transformation: Movie Magic• Living Portraits• Music "For Colored Girls"
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, the wondrous and illuminating play by Ntozake Shange, is an extroardinary and involving theatrical journey that practically demands the intimacy of a stage audience for its fullness of meaning to be brought to life.
Tyler Perry tries...Oh how he tries. Yet, Perry's adaptation of Shange's stage play feels like the unsure work of a director who knows he's dabbling with brilliance and who is trying too damn hard not to mess with it while interjecting into it his own cinematic stylings and just enough Hollywood touches to give the film a semblance of wide-release marketability.
Can For Colored Girls (Let's be honest...keeping the word "suicide" in the title would have been, well, suicide) get by on the years of good will that Perry has built up with his audiences? Is there hope for the film, a rare example of semi-experimental filmmaking released by a Hollywood studio, to actually attract a wider audience?
If For Colored Girls fails, it certainly won't be the fault of Perry's stellar cast, a mix of Perry vets and Hollywood faves portraying the films main characters including Crystal/Brown (Kimberly Elise), Jo/Red (Janet Jackson), Juanita/Green (Loretta Devine), Tangie/Orange (Thandie Newton), Yasmine/Yellow (Anika Noni Rose), Kelly/Blue (Kerry Washington), Nyla/Purple (Tessa Thompson) and Alice/White (Whoopi Goldberg) along with new characters Beau Willie (Michael Ealy), Carl (Omari Hardwick) and a neighborhood wise woman (Phylicia Rashad).
For Colored Girls desperately needed to be an either/or film, a film that remained truly faithful to Shange's original, perhaps unfilmable, stage creation or Perry should have simply accepted displeasing Shange loyalists and adapted the stage work for the screen with more stark realism and less theatrical flair. While there are moments, multiple moments, where For Colored Girls soars with the magnificence of the original stage version, there are just as many moments where the film feels stilted, uneven and burdened by Perry's attempts to balance poetry and practicality.
It's difficult to believe that Shange's emotionally resonant choreopoem is 34-years-old now, a groundbreaking work that featured a series of monologues that took America, perhaps for the first time on stage, inside the minds of America's black women. There is no question that Shange's work and observations remain relevant today, the only question being whether her uniquely styled vision could effectively be brought to the big screen.
Your ability to appreciate For Colored Girls may lie almost completely in your ability to go with the Perry flow or, more directly, your ability to adjust to the ways in which Perry intertwines the poetry of Shange's written yet spoken word into the more traditional dialogue that bridges and builds the scenes. Rashad, for example, will be counseling a young woman but will then begin waxing quite eloquently in language that has likely never entered into any therapeutic conversation. Is it beautiful? Absolutely. It also requires a psychological and sensory shift that Perry has not typically expected from his more traditional audiences.
Where Perry soars is in his longstanding willingness to jump fully into issues, in this case a rather bold foray into issues of faith, God, family, abuse, relationships and much more. Perry dares to paint realistic portraits where a truly sympathetic contracts HIV, children suffer and bad things happen to genuinely good people. There is a starkness, a harsh reality present in For Colored Girls that implies a newfound boldness within Perry that may very well have been birthed by his having been involved in producing last year's Precious.
Yet, there's another side of For Colored Girls and that is the film's underlying foundation of hopefulness and faith in the ability of those who have been victimized to heal, build relationships, unite and work together. The entire ensemble cast is strong here, though perhaps the film's strongest kudos must be given to Perry stalwart Loretta Devine along with Whoopi Goldberg, the always amazing Thandie Newton and the vastly underrated Kimberly Elise.
For Colored Girls never achieves the greatness of Shange's original vision, yet it is entirely likely that such an achievement wasn't even possible. Having assembled a rather remarkable cast that clearly understands and embraces the source material, Perry joins cast and crew in giving voice once again to America's black women, voices too often left unheard and far too often left unappreciated.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic