For Colored Girls reviews

Big Magilla
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Postby Big Magilla » Sat Oct 23, 2010 1:22 pm

Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt:

The Bottom Line:
Tyler Perry utterly butchers Ntozake Shange's theatrical tone poem to black female identity.

For once, Tyler Perry doesn't put his name above the title, but perhaps he should with "For Colored Girls" to distinguish this train wreck of a movie from the stunning theater piece of 36 years ago by Ntozake Shange.

Hers was a tragic and sensuous hybrid of poetry, dance, drama and feminist theology -- it even has been called the most important work about black female identity ever. Perry might be very much in touch with his feminine side when he dons a dress and padding to play his larger-than-life character Madea, but his style is too crude and stagy for Shange's transformative evocation of black female life, and his moralizing strikes exactly the wrong notes to express the pain and longing that cries out from her heated poetry.

"Girls" certainly will turn off those who know Shange's play, but what will Perry's usual audience make of his foray into date rape, domestic violence, homosexuality, back-room abortion and promiscuity? One should never gainsay Perry's ability to attract large opening-weekend crowds, but word-of- mouth could be toxic.

"For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf" -- to give the full title of the theater piece -- never was going to make an easy transition to the screen. The "choreopoem," as Shange dubbed it, has no conventional plot or characters. Performers give life to the poetry as characters are described merely as "lady in red" or "lady in white." In so doing, they speak to the issues of sexuality, violence, spirituality and the discovery of one's identity.

No, it never was going to be easy, but someone needed to put creative sweat into this one, to reach for cinematic solutions to the theatrical challenge. All Perry does is force conventional plots and characters -- utter cliches without lives or souls -- into the fabric of Shange's literary work. The hackneyed melodramas get him from one poem to the next but run roughshod over the collective sense of who these women are.

Then, when Perry arrives at the next poetic passage, the switch in writing between him and Shange is jarringly pronounced. The words belong to different worlds.

Perry situates his nine female protagonists in Harlem, supposedly in the modern day, but then how does a backroom abortion figure into this contemporary scene? Most of his women live in a crummy walk-up tenement, though not Janet Jackson's Jo, a high-powered magazine executive with a corner office and an East Side penthouse. Perry gives his frequent star no favors here, with hairdo, makeup and clothes that make her look like a mannequin.

However, Jo's beleaguered assistant, Crystal (Kimberly Elise) -- Perry's commercial instincts insist that he lifts from "The Devil Wears Prada" -- does live in that walk-up, where an abusive, alcoholic husband (Michael Ealy) is a constant threat to her and their two children. Building manager Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) has her eye on the situation as well as the one across the hall where Tangie (Thandie Newton) entertains a different man every night.

Tangie's Bible-toting mother, Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), and a younger sister, Nyla (Tessa Thompson), occupy an apartment downstairs, which keeps a kind of demilitarized zone between members of the warring family. Meanwhile, Juanita (Loretta Devine) down the hall fails to listen to her own advice as a nurse who runs a women's clinic at a community center when she continually lets a two-timing guy back into her life.

Others who get connected to the building include Kelly (Kerry Washington), a social worker who responds to Gilda's call about child abuse and inexplicably does nothing about it, and Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose), who teaches dance to Nyla.

The male characters other than Hill Harper's police detective are all sick cartoons, existing only to perpetuate horrors on the women. In Perry's peculiar view, though, the women often collaborate in their victimhood. They invite the stranger into the home or let men stay when they clearly should go. They all fall from grace.

When reciting Shange's words, the actresses often achieve moments of splendor. Some even achieve dignity within the hoary melodrama. This is especially true of Rashad, who acts as a kind of Greek chorus; Elise, whose character must cope with unspeakable tragedy; and Rose, who must search for an outlet for her rage and humiliation.

All technical aspects of the production are solid, though the sets never fail to look like sets.

Big Magilla
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Postby Big Magilla » Sat Oct 23, 2010 1:19 pm


For Colored Girls

'For Colored Girls'

Crystal/Brown - Kimberly Elise
Jo/Red - Janet Jackson
Juanita/Green - Loretta Devine
Tangie/Orange - Thandie Newton
Yasmine/Yellow - Anika Noni Rose
Kelly/Blue - Kerry Washington
Nyla/Purple - Tessa Thompson
Gilda - Phylicia Rashad
Alice/White - Whoopi Goldberg
Beau Willie - Michael Ealy
Carl - Omari Hardwick

It's not "Precious," but "For Colored Girls" marks an advance for Tyler Perry, as well as a big step back. In adapting Ntozake Shange's Tony-nominated play -- a cycle of poetic monologues about abuse, abortion and other issues facing modern black women, rather than a traditional narrative -- the do-it-all auteur demonstrates an ambition beyond any of his previous work. And yet the result falls squarely in familiar territory, better acted and better lit, perhaps, but more inauthentically melodramatic than ever. Perry's faithful should ensure a healthy berth for his 10th feature, while cast and pedigree will give "Girls" longer legs.

Perry was considered a controversial choice to direct Shange's celebrated "choreopoem," and understandably so. Though the text of the playwright's most affecting poems is virtually intact, Perry has unmistakably wrestled "Girls" into the same soap-opera mold of his earlier pics, connecting the passionate testimonials with cliched characterizations and two-bit psychoanalysis.

In Shange's original 1975 show, seven African-American dancers, each dressed in a different color and identified not by name but by their place in the spectrum, alternate time in the spotlight, while serving as a form of support network for the others. Each represents specific individual challenges facing black women, even as the group presents the community's collective experience. But if the intention, as suggested by Shange's original title ("For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf"), was to offer universal, easily identifiable experiences, then Perry's handling has regrettably diluted the effect into a series of interconnected stock stories.

The mere act of translating "For Colored Girls" to film forces fundamental and unfortunate changes on the material, softening and reducing the archetypes to specific characters. Perhaps the most fully formed of the ensemble is Crystal, inspired by "Lady in Red's" abused-lover tale and played by Kimberly Elise, star of Perry's 2005 bigscreen debut, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." Where the show used mere words to paint the long-suffering mother's unhappy existence, here we see the sad confines of her life and meet the broken war veteran (Michael Ealy) who crosses the line trying to convince her to marry him. It all seems small by comparison, the performers so obviously play-acting, the situation so transparently false.

While those color-coded ladies once hailed from all over -- outside Houston, Chicago, Detroit and so on -- they've now been crammed under the roof of a single Harlem apartment building, the exception being Crystal's employer, Jo (Janet Jackson), a high-powered magazine editor who shares a sleek Gotham pad with her emasculated husband (Omari Hardwick), who leads a double life on the down-low. Jo's story feels the most patently Perry-fied thing about the film, reflecting the director's tendency to tackle key issues through pat, gently preachy examples (he similarly inserts lessons on contraception, venereal disease and religious fanaticism into other subplots). "Girls" never feels more like daytime television than in the scene where the couple have it out, back-to-back in an awkwardly blocked argument.

The overcrowded ensemble also includes Thandie Newton as a liberated bartender who uses sex to address a personal shortcoming; Tessa Thompson as the kid sister whom Perry curiously saddles with both the virginity-losing and abortion-suffering poems; Whoopi Goldberg as a woman too consumed in her beliefs to tend to earthly concerns; Kerry Washington as a child welfare worker who too-ironically can't conceive; Loretta Devine as a relationship counselor with equally on-the-nose troubles in her own love life; and Anika Noni Rose as a dance instructor whose infectiously upbeat attitude can't last long. Stoically observing it all is a neighbor played by Phylicia Rashad, who withholds her own secrets and consequently feels like the film's weakest link (she might have been a better vessel for the "somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff" piece).

There's some great acting being done here (including a chilling cameo from Macy Gray as a back-alley abortionist), but the cameras aren't where they need to be to capture it, and the editing isn't properly calibrated to shape what the performers are dishing out. Even the poetry feels flat, delivered in a lower key than the dialogue Perry penned himself. Though the helmer films partly in New York for the first time, he relies once again on his usual stable of collaborators, including d.p. Alexander Gruszynski, editor Maysie Hoy, production designer Ina Mayhew (with her sitcom-style sets) and composer Aaron Zigman (offering a minimalist, Clint Eastwood-style score), which suggests the team may be holding him back.

While Perry's craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach. Just as the director was finding the organic quality that eluded him in "Diary" and other early efforts, he's confronted with a conceptual piece that calls for an entirely different approach. Yet he can't resist turning "For Colored Girls" into a Tyler Perry Movie, which means imposing diva worship where nuance is called for and a pleasure-punishing Christian worldview where a certain moral ambiguity might have been more appropriate.

Camera (Deluxe color), Alexander Gruszynski; editor, Maysie Hoy; music, Aaron Zigman; music supervisor, Joel C. High; production designer, Ina Mayhew; art director, Roswell Hamrick; set designer, Danny Brown; set decorator, C. Lance Totten; costume designer, Johnetta Boone; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Damian Elias Canelos; supervising sound editor, Mike Wilhoit; re-recording mixers, Gary Summers, Daniel J. Leahy; special effects coordinators, Justin Crump, Eric A. Martin; visual effects, 2G Digital; assistant director, Roger M. Bobb; second unit camera, Sergei Franklin; line producer, Deborah A. Evans; casting, Robi Reed. Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, Los Angeles, Oct. 20, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 134 MIN.

With: Macy Gray, Richard Lawson, Hill Harper, Khalil Kain, Rayna Tharani, Jaycee Williams, Thomas "Deuce" Jessup, May Zayan, John Crow.

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