See Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls for the performances, the music, and Perry’s directorial flourishes in this uniquely soulful, if not entirely successful, adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s 1974 Broadway play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
Focusing on each of nine women as individuals, not merely as people bound by race, sex, or social status, Perry depicts several colliding catastrophes without the smugness of Crash or the episodic smallness of television. Though the story is not exactly cinematic, and the characters don’t always match their lyricism, Perry does his best to make it interesting and he often succeeds in achieving a sense of kaleidoscopic color.
Featuring an outstanding cast of actresses as you’ve never seen them, Colored Girls unfolds in sporadic wordplay and images about date rape, abortion, homosexuality, repression, abuse, sex addiction, religion and more through the troubled and tawdry tales of beautiful black city women who struggle to work and love, rise above sorrow, and mind their lives. Tyler Perry avoids graphic scenes, most stereotypes, and the type of anti-male sexism that usually pervades movies about women and the sum total is an uneven film which is also amazing to watch in spots. With children, dancers, veterans, bartenders, secretaries, businesswomen, and cops whose lives matter, their days and nights intersect more or less naturally in a Harlem walk-up run by a nosy woman at the top of the stairs (Phylicia Rashad, Just Wright).
Kerry Washington (Lakeview Terrace) plays a child welfare worker with a secret. Kimberly Elise (Stop-Loss) stars as an executive assistant in denial. Loretta Devine (Waiting to Exhale) is a flamboyant women’s advocate with a contradiction. Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog) portrays an overromanticized teacher, Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happyness) plays a drunken trollop, Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act) plays her crazy mother, and Janet Jackson (CBS’ Good Times) runs a New York magazine. Rashad is the maternal figure that brings them all together.
Goldberg has had better roles. Rose, Washington, Elise, and Devine have long been among the best actresses in Hollywood. Janet Jackson improves upon a cliched role as a rich businesswoman who is predictably humbled by tragedy. The standouts are Loretta Devine deftly delivering a comic touch as a person who discovers her ego, Washington, Elise and Rose in emotionally powerful scenes, and, especially, Rashad, delivering Shange’s lyrical lines like she means it, as a busybody with a soft spot and spirit of steel. Newton fits her part like a glove and the men of the cast are excellent, too.
For Colored Girls is mixed in content and form, touching on topics too lightly though often with powerfully rendered moments, such as a scene between a married couple literally and spiritually refusing to face one another as they unmask themselves. Life can be tremendously challenging, particularly these days, and while this slice of nine lives is choppy, Lionsgate and Tyler Perry manage to resonate once again.