December 23, 2010 -- I had never seen a Tyler Perry film before this one. I live in one of those states with a very small black population and they don't show black movies at the local theaters. I had heard ot Tyler Perry, of course. I consider him to be one of the most successful people in the movie business, along with Adam Sandler. Both are adept at making films that don't cost much money to make, but regularly make lots of money in theaters. Both have cracked the top spot on the box office charts on several occassions with their modestly budgeted films. “For Colored Girls” is not typical for a Tyler Perry film in that the subject matter is very serious and there is virtually no comedy material in it.
The all-star cast includes Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg and Loretta Devine. Tyler Perry seems to have recruited every major black actress except for Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly opposed Perry's attempt to adapt this movie from the experimental stage play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange. This play has also been adapted into a book and TV movie. Oprah may have been right. This movie seems to be an uneasy alliance between cinema and poetry. It seemed to me that some of the poems from the play that Shange calls a “choreopoem” would work better if I could have read them first and been familiar with them before trying to pick them up as they sail by on the screen. The way it works in the movie is there is a dramatic scene, which pauses while one of the characters speaks one of these poems, then the story starts back up again. I could follow some of these poems, while others are a mystery, albeit a mystery with lovely words that evoke powerful images. I must admit, I am crippled with two fatal flaws for grasping this movie: I am a man, and I am white. This movie isn't really about people like me. My life experience didn't prepare me for this.
While the poetry sometimes escaped me, the drama was very understandable. The various stories deal with all sorts of tragedies, from infidelity, infertility and lies to incest, rape, abuse, abortion and murder. There is a whole world of pain in this movie. The pain is raw and unrelenting, none more so than Crystal (played by Kimberly Elise of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”) who sees her children murdered with her own eyes. No poem can heal that pain, as hard as Phylicia Rashad tries to deliver a healing poem as a strong, motherly apartment manager. She also tries to heal the emotionally-scarred character played by Thandie Newton with another poem. Whoopi Goldberg, on the other hand, plays a religious zealot and mother who seems to do a lot more harm than good to her own children. One of the film's other healers, a nurse, Juanita (Loretta Devine) is scarred herself by a man who repeatedly cheats on her. She is so strong, however, that doesn't stop her from helping other women in similar circumstances.
The message of this film is that you cannot keep a good black woman down. No matter what you throw at them, or how much they hurt, they keep moving on with great courage and tenacity. There is a nice scene at the end of the film when all the women gather together to give each other comfort and strength. I think a good case could be made for Kimberly Elise, and several other actresses in this film in support of Academy Awards recognition. Such recognition is seldom given to black women, but these performances in this film are exceptional. While the structure of the film doesn't work very well, there is nothing at all wrong with the acting. This film rates a B.
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