Saturday, November 6, 2010

Movie Review: For Colored Girls

I fell in love with Ntozake Shange’s play, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide when the Rainbow Wasn’t Enuf (which she referred to as a choreopoem) way back in high school when I was a bit of a thespian (that's a lover of acting, not to be confused with a lover of other women – not that there is anything wrong with that). I read and reread the play. I loved it. I even used several of the monologues as audition pieces.  For those unfamiliar with the play, For Colored Girls, for short, it is a collection of poems told by eight different women only known by their colors: Red, Orange, Green, Yellow, Brown, Purple, White and Blue.

When I found out Tyler Perry was turning it into a film, I had concerns and I had questions. How do you take a collection of monologues by characters that have little interaction and turn it into a film? Do you add men, because as they were the inspiration for most of the poems, there were none in the play? So, I went into this film very reluctant. I came out very pleased.

Perry had to start by creating relationships between the women. Yasmine/Yellow (Anika Noni Rose) was a dance instructor and Nyla/Purple (Tessa Thompson) was one of her students, looking forward to starting college. Nyla was the sister of the beautiful and promiscuous Tangie/Orange (Thandie Newton) who was estranged from their mother, the very religious Alice/White (Whoopi Goldberg). Tangie and her landlord Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) shared the fifth floor of their walk-up apartment building with the hardworking and abused Crystal/Brown (Kimberly Elise), who worked for the high-powered Jo/Red (Janet Jackson). Rounding out the cast were Kelly/Blue (Kerry Washington) a social worker and Juanita/Green (Loretta Devine) a nurse, starting a non-profit health center for women.

Men play pivotal, if not central roles: Michael Ealy, Richard Lawson, Omari Hardwick and Khalil Khan have the thankless task of bringing these men, who have collectively caused so much pain, to life. Hill Harper stars as a character of Perry’s own creation, a good guy, who's sole purpose seems to be to show women that all men aren't bad.

The performances were spot-on, with the women, and the men, bringing the intensity necessary to not just bring these women to life but to flesh them out as full characters. I don’t normally give Perry a lot of props in the writing department but he did a great job of creating the world and the relationships in which these characters could exist.

He also didn’t shy away from the brutality of some of the subject matter: abuse, rape and murder are all handled and handled well. In fact, the most powerful poem in the play becomes a pivot turning point in the film and it is brought to horrifying life. I had half expected the Hollywood happy ending but Perry stayed true to the play.

However, in staying true to the play and some of the monologues, the film sometimes came across as stilted and disjointed. He keeps many of the lines from the original play intact. As a fan of the play, I appreciated that (and even after all these years was able to quote lines right along with the actresses). If you aren’t familiar with the play, many of the lines will seem to go on too long or just seem slightly out-of-place.

As a result, this is a film that sometimes feels more like theater. To me that isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that, I highly recommend this film, not just for Colored Girls but for all girls (and some sensitive guys too).

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