Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls

By Scott Martin

For Colored Girls, USA, 2010

Written and Directed by Tyler Perry

Based on the Play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

for colored girls movies i didnt getThe thing that has always fascinated me about Tyler Perry’s films is how simple in structure they are. Everything has its place, and everything falls in line. It’s kind of elemental, or, even though this word implies a negative connotation, elementary; not really paint-by-numbers, but there are moments in his canon that are extremely formulaic, despite his “auteur” intent. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), The Family That Preys (2008), For Colored Girls – all have elements of each other, and all have elements of a distinct kind of American film: Soul Food (1997), Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004), Precious (2009); he even subtly draws from the days of the transcendence of exploitation minstrel into the hands of African-American filmmakers who made thoughtful blaxploitation films. Perry’s well-rounded direction makes up for his choppy writing.

From Ntosake Shage’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, he draws a broader portrait from Shange’s view of what it is to be a woman of color in the ’70s to what it is to be a woman of color in today’s harsher world. Love, abandonment, disease, abortion, rape – the film follows a pattern like that of 2004’s Crash in that the broad portrait is painted with broad characters to whom all bad things imaginable happen. No one falls down a staircase, there isn’t any expository dialogue, but the effort remains cyclical in the same root: stuff enough plot into the box until it won’t close properly. The play itself is nearly un-filmable, so Perry did his absolute best with what he could. Perry’s Colored Girls are more accessible in this day and age, if not more thinly written. Rather than just colors for names, he gives each woman a full characterization and uses their original monikers as a motif in their costuming. His new characters have no such motif, but are more stoic in their additions. From the moment they pop onto the screen, we know why they are there.

One of the consistent criticisms of the film that I’ve read is its treatment of men throughout, though this is defensible in that bad things have to happen for the story to continue. It’s a flimsy criticism from people who, I think, didn’t really connect with what Perry was trying to do. Following the Crash pattern, if the characters aren’t effected by the main idea of the film, if there’s no catalyst for these changes, then we don’t have a film. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but absolutely necessary. As a guy, I was nowhere close to offended, and, obviously, being neither of color nor a girl, I’m surprised by how sharply I connected with what was going on.

Mainly, of course, that’s due to the stronger-than-hell performances of everyone involved. It’s difficult to pick a standout. The film’s actors fall into a rhythm with each other, and their dialog seems to reach notes of their own. The soliloquies are presented in a traditional musical format: dialogue, action, song, etc. Each actress has more than one moment in which to shine, and they do. Between the formidable cast of Lorette Devine, Thandie Newton (channeling a bit of Eartha Kitt), Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, a stunning and surprisingly strong Janet Jackson, Macy Gray (who delivers one of the best monologues in the film), Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson, and an absolutely incredible Kimberly Elise – as a viewer, I didn’t have one complaint. If fact, if I were forced to note one, it would be that each girl didn’t have enough time on screen. I wanted to know more about them, but what I got from Perry was more than enough, and wonderfully full of life.

Do I think the film could have been more fleshed out? Yes, I do. And the screenplay around its dialogue could have been tighter, and a bit less dramatic, but, thanks to Perry’s intuitive direction and the performers’ A-grade work from everyone involved, For Colored Girls has become one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and will be something I remember come awards time.

Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com

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