Who’s In It: Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Tessa Thompson, Michael Ealy, Omari Hardwick, Hill Harper, Khalil Kain, Richard Lawson, Macy Gray
The Basics: Tyler Perry takes a serious pause from the Madea hijinks and domestic dramaramas to go artsy with his own adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 feminist stage play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. In the original “choreopoem,” several unnamed female characters explored modern womanhood in abstract monologue, each represented by a different color. In Perry’s soap opera version the women have names, jobs, and their own torrid back stories and pass through the same Harlem walk-up as they despair through every possible hardship under the sun, including rape, abortion, domestic abuse, religious fanaticism, sexual deviancy, poverty, infidelity, infertility, loss, and the hot button issue of African-American men on the down low.
What’s The Deal: Frequently moving but just as frequently alienating, Tyler Perry’s take on Shange’s play is challenging material. A certain audience may be up for that challenge – go prepared for characters to slip in and out of spoken word monologue while addressing the camera and each other, for starters -- but it’s Perry who ultimately falls short. The stifling melodrama, fleshed out from Shange’s play so that characters interconnect in the most annoying ways, succumbs to cliché with abandon; there’s the pregnant teenager with a religious mom, the controlling career woman with a philandering trophy husband, the abused pushover who can’t bring herself to leave a bad relationship, even for the sake of her children. Perry’s worst offense, however, is in misjudging the line between theatricality and realism; he wants it both ways, juxtaposing kitchen sink grit with awkward, stagey digressions that muddle the rules of the world. That means even the cracked-out abortionist (Macy Gray) starts spewing verse at her makeshift operating table and the whole thing ends with a literal group hug, and whatever hopeful curiosity and patience you had for Perry’s daring Mexican soap opera of an experiment will have bled out by the time the credits roll.
Okay, I Dug: Macy Gray’s crazy abortion-lady. She’s terrifying and perfectly cast, punctuating everyone else’s seriousness with so much frightening, over-the-top swagger that she makes Whoopi Goldberg’s religious fanatic hoarder seem normal and harmless.
What Else Almost Makes It Bearable: Perry’s actresses manage to find the truth in their clichéd characters – even if they then live in it, suffer in it, and wring it dry until there are no more tears to shed between the lot of them. Highlights include the unsinkable Loretta Devine, downright heroic as she faces a doomed affair and takes Janet Jackson’s haughty magazine editrix to task; Thandie Newton, who lays everything bare, including her body, as an embittered sex addict resentful of both her mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and her naïve little sister (Tessa Thompson); Anika Noni Rose, buoyant and graceful as a dancer attacked by a man she trusts; and Kimberly Elise, who wins the suffering game with her heartbreaking turn as a mother haunted by tragedy that unites the entire cast.
The Overriding Message Of For Colored Girls, CliffsNotes Version: Men suck. Spoiler alert: They’ll cheat on you, impregnate you, beat you, abandon you, invite themselves over for dinner, take their PTSD rage out on you, and the only thing they’ll ever give you in return for your loyalty and love is heartbreak and maybe an STD or two.