Almost from the moment Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” opened on Broadway in 1976, there have been attempts to bring it to the big screen. For one reason or another, most often money or casting issues, the attempts fell through. In 2009, Lionsgate announced that it had acquired the distribution rights to Tyler Perry’s adaptation, which would be retitled “For Colored Girls.” The news was met almost immediately by equal parts joy and scorn by fans of the original work. After watching the film, I can see where both sides are coming from.
Let me start by admitting I have neither read nor seen the original play. I am familiar with the material in the same way that if somebody stuck a gun to my head and asked me to describe it, there’s a chance I could BS my way through. I say that because at some point I get the feeling Mr. Perry must have felt like someone had a gun pointed at his head and told him to BS his way through a script treatment. Perry is known for hamfistedly inserting certain subjects into his movies constantly. If there are five couples in the film, four are miserable, two of the men are on the down low, and all of the women will learn that sex is a horrible thing by the end of the film. I am on record as being a fan because of the awfulness of his characters lives, and in updating Shange’s work for the 21st century, Perry apparently took that to mean, “Okay, someone’s getting HIV, someone’s getting raped, and uh…oh hell, let’s just beat the hell out of the rest!”
The majority of the seven actresses, or “Girls” of the title, are actually given well thought out characters with stories and motivations. Then you have Whoopi Goldberg’s character (Alice, or White, as the main female characters all have color names also). I realize it’s not a surprise that Whoopi’s performance is a lowlight, but it gets to the point where when she shuffles onto the screen, which is quite often, you realize how subtle Joy Behar’s comedy is. Alice/White isn’t given much more to do than mumble, pray, and occasionally hit one of her daughters. Oh, how could I forget, she’s also a hoarder. Perry must have watched so much A&E while banging this script out, I can’t help but wonder how close we were to watching Goldberg play a cake boss. Janet Jackson doesn’t come off any better. Again, when Perry feels the need to update the characters and their surroundings, things turn bad quickly. “Janet, here’s your motivation. You’re a successful black woman who probably votes Republican and thinks your husband might be gay. Also, remember to cough every now and then, because that will be important later in the film. Now, action!”
Perhaps the strongest performer of the film, Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show) is a welcome sight to see on the big screen, often playing the straight woman in her scenes opposite Thandie Newton’s Tangie/Orange. This film was being promoted as Perry’s first potential Oscar caliber film, but if anyone associated with FCG has reason to be optimistic come Academy Award time, it is Mrs. Rashad.
In the end, all the women come together and realize how crappy life is, but hey, that’s life. My wife actually pointed out that the ending was very reminiscent of your average Sex and the City episode, except instead of laughter and martinis, this one ends in tears and HIV. I hope Tyler Perry never changes.