Full disclosure: I have never seen the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. I have never read the book version, and I have never seen the TV-movie with Alfre Woodard. I am not a woman, nor am I black. But I have read and performed in plays, I watched a lot of after-school specials in the 1980s and I used to watch All My Children with my mother when I was little, which I think makes me perfectly qualified to say that Tyler Perry's new movie, despite extensive refurbishing, is still outdated melodrama with familiar life lessons, overly florid dialogue and too many monologues.
In the movie, seven black women live their very different lives in New York City, crossing paths on the fifth floor of an apartment building and elsewhere, and talk extensively about how horrible their men are to them. Their storylines may have been refreshing and daring in the 1970s, when the play was written, but now they're just trite. To wit:
- A high-paid magazine editor (Janet Jackson) rebukes her investor trophy husband for taking money without asking, but she doesn't know that he's secretly gay on the down-low.
- Her assistant (Kimberly Elise) struggles to keep her family safe from her crazy/drunk veteran husband, who is both off his meds and on the booze and insanely jealous and he beats her.
- A social worker (Kerry Washington) tries to protect the assistant's kids and yet she can't have her own because of an STD she once had.
- The assistant's neighbor (Thandie Newton) brings home a different married man every night because she likes having sex and there are clearly underlying psychological issues.
- The neighbor's sister (Tessa Thompson) pursues a dance scholarship for college, but gets knocked up on prom night and must get a back-alley abortion.
- The sister's dance teacher (Anika Noni Rose) lets a man she met on the subway woo her, but it turns out he is not a nice guy after all.
- A clinic manager (Loretta Devine) allows a truck-driving lover to move back in, despite his inability to stop sleeping at another woman's apartment.
- The building manager (Phylicia Rashad) takes care of the assistant's kids as her husband beats her and bickers/counsels their loose neighbor who hates her mother and clearly has issues.
Beyond the overly familiar storylines, the entire movie just feels fake, from the stage-like fifth-floor landing where so many scenes take place to the hilariously crime-infested alleyway where the sister goes to get an abortion. (It's actually done on the third floor, by a creepy Macy Gray with medical tools dipped in bourbon.) And big swaths of the play's original free-verse dialogue are preserved as character monologues, where nobody else speaks as the characters break out the thesaurus in order to colorfully describe their feelings at length or simply relate an anecdote. Each character gets at least one of these monologues, and while realism is clearly not the goal here, they further detract from the believability of the scene. If it was Tyler Perry's intent to preserve the staged feel of the play, then he's succeeded.
One exception is Whoopi Goldberg as the mother of Newton and Thompson, a hoarder who belongs to a strange church, which means she gets to be awesomely judgmental of her loose daughters and then drop a psychological information bomb on the older sister later on in the movie. She's one of the best things in the film, so it sucks that she doesn't get much screen time and that her monologue gets drowned out by Newton's. (Or maybe that's good?) Michael Ealy is also pretty creepy as the clearly insane Beau, but his character is a bit of a cardboard cutout; when it seems like he's aware of and might be able to overcome his demons, he starts to get interesting, but he almost immediately reverts to stereotype, leading to a hysterical "dangling his own kids out the window" scene. It's supposed to be a sad scene, I guess, but since there's no way I would ever believe any of it was real, that makes it okay to laugh at it. Right?
Did you see For Colored Girls? Let us know what you thought below, then read our reviews of Due Date, Megamind, 127 Hours, Fair Game, Four Lions and more!
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