Title: For Colored Girls
Directed By: Tyler Perry
Starring: Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson, Macy Gray
It’s too bad Tyler Perry couldn’t take a cue from his film’s title, which was chopped down from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, the 1975 Ntozake Shange play upon which the film is based, to simply For Colored Girls. Just like his name attracts massive amounts of moviegoers, it works like a charm when it comes to casting, too. Yes, it’s thrilling to print a massive list of famous names on your roster, try to adapt an iconic play and express a hefty handful of heavy-duty messages, but when it came to actually making those elements thrive in a film, it proved to be far more than Perry could handle.
Phylicia Rashad is Gilda, the manager of a New York City apartment building and the unofficial housemother, especially when it comes to her next-door neighbor Tangie (Thandie Newton). Night after night Tangie brings a new guy back to her place and sends them packing early the next morning, however, her younger sister, Nyla (Tessa Thompson), is dealing with an entirely different situation. She’s thrilled about finally losing her virginity, but her world comes crashing down when she finds out she’s pregnant. Even worse? Her mother (Whoopi Goldberg) is entirely consumed by her religious beliefs and would only shun Nyla for her sin.
Then there’s Janet Jackson as the big time magazine editor with an attitude, Joanna. When she isn’t tossing folks seeking charitable donations like Juanita (Loretta Devine) out of her office, she’s busy bossing around her longtime assistant Crystal (Kimberly Elise). As if life at work isn’t hard enough, at home Crystal has to deal with her abusive husband and care for her two young children. Gilda’s got her eye on the situation and even takes it upon herself to summon a social services agent, Kelly (Kerry Washington). Kelly also ends up consoling Anika Noni Rose’s character, Yasmine, after a vicious sexual assault.
Clearly the roster is quite large and that’s For Colored Girls’ biggest problems; barely any of the characters are fully developed. Each and every one of them is dealing with a very real and serious problem, however, only a few manage to convey the severity of their situation to the point at which the audience can sympathize with their plight. When it comes to the rest, it’s just too hard to care.
The performances and dialogue are flat almost across the board. The drab begins right from the start when Perry delivers an awkward montage of his leading ladies as they recite Shange’s words, in voiceover, overlapping as it goes from one character to the next. The words completely lose their meaning thanks to the lifeless recitations and come across as preachy more than anything.
The words directly from Perry’s pen don’t fare well either. Every character’s situation is as formulaic as they come, which is primarily due to the fact that they’re extremely underdeveloped. Perry starts off fantastically, providing detailed introductions to each woman, but doesn’t seem to know where to go from there and when he hits that wall, just tosses the character into some devastating situation. Yasmine goes from an innocent dance teacher looking for the right man to a battered rape victim and while Nyla goes from a bubbly dance student to the victim of a shady and seemingly mentally unstable abortionist (Macy Gray). Perry certainly knows how to rip your heart out with these moments; if only he was capable of properly padding them so they came across as aiming for something more than sheer shock value.
For most of the film, every actress simply walks through, reading lines. They’re not trying to portray a character, merely convey some grandiose message that has no weight in the context of the film. The sole actress who is not only guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes, but hold your attention throughout the film, is Elise. Her character is quite subdued at the onset, but when she runs into her traumatizing situation, your heart will break right along with hers. The horrific nature of the moment is overwhelmingly powerful in and of itself, but it’s Elise’s honest performance that makes it that much more emotional. Thompson does quite well in her role as well, but the part of Nyla, like most of the characters, only strikes a chord when she’s down. The moment she overcomes her obstacle, she’s a bit of a bore.
It’s impossible to pin point one major problem with For Colored Girls for everything is just so-so at best. Perhaps Perry was just too concerned with shoving some extravagant point about the hardships faced by women of color in our faces because just about ever other element of the film is devastatingly weak. The majority of the action is missed thanks to poor camera work, the editing is sloppy, the performances are bland, the characters are stale and, to top it all off, Perry desperately tries to lift his fallen characters up by forcing all of their stories to converge so the film can end with a star-studded, but unintentionally silly group hug.
By Perri Nemiroff