I haven’t been able to see the movie that Tyler Perry recently released because I haven’t found a copy of it online.(Periods don’t just end sentences) Since I knew that our long time friend of The Asylum, @AllTayo had seen the movie recently, I asked her to present her thoughts about it for us.
When Owl asked me to write this review, my first reaction was no. I didn’t feel comfortable in putting my opinion of the film out there; but after some gentle cajoling, I decided, on a whim, to do so. Full disclaimer, I have not seen the stage play or read the choreopoems as originally conceived by Ntozake Shange, so my opinions are based solely on this movie, my experiences and a vague concept of the original.
The first hurdle to tackle with this movie was the writer/director/producer at the helm: Tyler Perry. Perry has found a very comfortable niche with the bringing his “chitlin’ circuit” plays to the big screen. This has been what has brought him to the general public eye and is responsible for the large part of his fame today. And he has his market: the “round the way” Black folks, more specifically Black women. I find that most of his films/plays, while readily consumable, fall back into a easy formula of “bad Black man wrongs the Black woman. Black woman is bitter and angry, hates life and lashes out at those around her, especially the ones who want to help her most. But Praise God Almighty, she finds a ‘good Black man’ and all of her troubles vanish with the flash of his pearly whites.” He relies so much on the stereotypes and cheap and crude jokes to get a quick laugh, touching on serious topics, but not delving in far enough to make us really examine them. But it brings us (Black women) to the theater, especially because we are starved for seeing movies that feature women of our hue in roles that aren’t just the sassy-sidekick-head-rolling-Guuuurrrrrlllllllll!! type roles. Kudos for Perry. And I mean that in a non-sarcastic way. He has shown to Hollywood that movies with predominately Black casts can be profitable. And I hope it paves the way for more Black movies with varied topics and ranges of emotions to come along.
Anyway, back to For Colored Girls. The movie introduces us to the characters and their stories and shows how their lives begin to intertwine. The cinematography was beautiful, as many of Tyler Perry’s films are. The apartments to me seemed worn and tired and it made you wonder how many stories their walls had seen. I was aware that each woman had a color and it was evident enough in the actresses’ clothing who was who. Every actress brought their A game with the roles they were given. I’m a big fan of Black star power and this movie had it in spades. Kimberly Elise shone as an abused mother. Phylicia Rashad brought her graceful ways as the apartment manger who seemed to double as the wise “Earth Mother” type. Macy Gray (whose acting has never disappointed) masterfully performed her part as a creepy back alley abortionist. Kerry Washington, a great actress in her own right, was not given enough material to show her chops, I feel, and her character functioned more so as a link between the other characters and we were not really allowed to experience her story. Thandie Newton stole all her scenes as the sex-crazed, but troubled bartender; I will say, however, that a lot of her lines bordered on very stereotypical (Perry’s specialty), which drew the “obvious” laughs.
Aside from all this, the movie was brought down for me by the writing. I believe that it would be somewhat hard to take a stage play that is more thematic and translate it into a narrative film version that has to tell the stories more literally. There were many times that the film broke into the words of Shange from the created dialogue and it caught me off guard. It often took a second to realize that we had shifted into the poems and often by the time I thought to try and listen to what the poems were saying, it had ended and had shifted back to the narrative. This was also complicated for me in a few scenes by the extra “noise” that was going on: overlapping poems spoken at the same time, but not in such a way that you got what both were saying. Poems that were overshadowed by the context of the scenes that they were in. There were times when I wondered if the movie seemed powerful to me because it was actually a powerful movie or if it was because the play on which it was based was powerful itself. Sitting in my seat in the theater, from start to finish, I was on edge. The subject matters were intense and dark: rape, child and woman abuse, cheating, down-low homosexuality, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases. It just seemed that every situation went from bad to worse and at times it was very depressing. My mother leaned over to me a couple of times and whispered “There’s so much bad in this film; I just wish there was at least one positive person.” To which I responded, “I’m not sure if that is the point of this movie.” It just seemed that as the movie wore on, that a heavy feeling came over me, a sense of hopelessness for these characters living their lives on the screen. And even as the movie wrapped up and there was a glimmer of positivity, a sense of “And still I rise…”, it felt like it came too late and was so rushed, as if it was an afterthought. There was no time to actually embrace those thoughts and feelings that would have allowed the viewer to walk out of the theater with a smile in her heart.
All that said, I do feel like this is Tyler Perry’s best effort at movie making to date. Could it have been better, yes. Would it have been better if another, more accomplished and more nuanced director undertook the effort? Possibly. Probably. But for me, Black star power shone throughout that movie and if for nothing else, it is worth seeing all these wonderful and often times overlooked Black actors and actresses get the opportunity to stretch out and flex their acting muscles.
Tayo isn’t really a movie critic, she just plays one on TV.