Tyler Perry’s latest, For Colored Girls, opens to a dancer (Anika Noni Rose) accompanied by a piano and violin. As the dance intensifies we hear snatches of a poem, narrated by each of the main women in the cast as we flash to them at small moments in their lives. It’s not a slight at the film that those five minutes are the most beautiful of it all because there is one inherent problem with For Colored Girls. It’s a musical, but it doesn’t have a score – only lyrics. Someone unfamiliar with Ntozake Shange’s original play would probably find the monologue-breaks jarring, but I’m inclined to think that For Colored Girls deserves the same suspension of belief we give to book-musicals where characters break out (injudiciously it seems, sometimes) into song. The very fact that Perry takes a collection of soliloquies and turns them into a cohesive drama is praiseworthy enough, but For Colored Girls manages to transcend his earlier work – unevenly, but still not without a payoff.
There’s always an issue with films that decide to tackle ensembles in the way that For Colored Girls attempts to. A group of unrelated people need to have a connection to make an ensemble work – sometimes the vignettes are broadly painted, I’m not a fan of Crash but I’ll admit that the linking of the stories is easily its strongest attribute. And for Tyler Perry, For Colored Girls could claim that strength too, for the most part. The segues in the first half work beautifully, as Anika Noni Rose’s dancer just happens to make a donation after receiving a pamphlet on religion from Whoopi Goldberg’s charlatan. It’s those light connections that make buoy the realism. The ironic thing is, as the film develops in the second half and the characters have reasons to interact the film begins to get a little disingenuous. The first half, the rising action, is beautifully orchestrated but there’s something about the fall that feels inadequate. The thing is, the screenplay is simultaneously responsible for helping the film and damaging it. But I’ll be Perry’s champion and say that it never reaches the depths of horror that he always ends up being connected with. It’s not praise to say that Perry is far from the worse director, but I have a feeling general prejudices prevents the average critic from seeing For Colored Girls with an unbiased vision. There are moments of uncertainty, but just as quickly as he’ll fall into a rote choice he’ll surprise you with something poignant.
But it’s the performances that are the true treasure of For Colored Girls. It makes you realise just how many talented black women are lacking roles. She doesn’t get the strongest role, and she doesn’t deliver the strongest performances but I was entranced by Anika Noni Rose who has such a winning charm that I’m confused as to why she’s not in more movies. Theatrical would be a word to describe her, and it makes me think of all the performances. For some reason theatrical has imprudently become a synonym for melodrama. Inaccurate. What’s more, theatrical doesn’t mean “bad”. For Colored Girls is theatrical – and so is life at times. The monologues reach greater importance because the voices of these women is literally what defines them. It’s no surprise then that Loretta Devine* with her potently “theatrical” (interpret it as you will) delivers the strongest monologue, even if her character is painted in the broadest strokes. That final scene is jarring, but like the entire film its root is in the women it portrays and there’s something about the melange of talent there that’s difficult to resist. It’s foolish to accuse For Colored Girls of seeing one side of the story when it immediately tells you it does. It’s not that movie is only for “colored girls”, but the story is theirs....and what a story it is.
B- (the Acting: A, the writing: B-, the direction, C/C+, MVP: Thandie Newton)
*A/N: I find it vaguely interesting that Loretta Devine played Lorrel Robinson in the Original Broadway Production of “Dreamgirls”, the role Anika Noni Rose recreated on film.