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February 28, 2018

For Colored Girls

by Franz Patrick


For Colored Girls (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a play by Ntozake Shange, the film attempts to balance seven interconnecting stories of African-American women, from a talented sixteen-year-old dancer with a good chance of going to college (Tessa Thompson) to a very successful but emotionally cold editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine (Janet Jackson). Despite a wealth of dramatic elements in the script, Tyler Perry, the director and the screenwriter, fails to minimize certain aspects in order for the work to exude a cinematic texture rather than that of of a stage play.

The seven actresses in focus are divine. Kimberly Elise stands out as Crystal, a woman with two young children who chooses to endure physical abuse from her husband. It is a smart decision to give Crystal the most screen time because out of all the subjects, her struggle, in my opinion, is most common. Loretta Devine as Juanita, leading a non-profit organization who educates women about healthy choices when it comes to sex, and Thandie Newton as Tangie, obsessed with bringing home a different man each night, are not far behind in capturing our attention.

Although the performers do what they can and are able to shine at times, the script seems at a loss on how to deal with characters representing extremes. Most painful to watch is Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), an extremely devout woman who is angry and worried that her children fail to match her level of faith. The character is written as if she were a crazy person, always going on about everybody going to hell. Everyone else is so human except for her. On the other side of the spectrum, Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) is written too much like a saint. Everything she does is so tender, her personality is too sweet, and her decisions are always perfect. Whenever Alice and Gilda are in front of the camera, we do not connect with them fully because they do not act or feel like actual people.

There is a lack of steady rhythm as the film jumps from one strand to another. For example, just as a grim scene is about to reach its climax, it cuts to another story that is sweet, and then onto another that is somewhat amusing. Finally, when it returns to one that feels most urgent, it is no longer as exciting or as interesting. It feels like a chore when we are forced to orient ourselves in a zone of gloom.

The picture is sabotaged by long, poetic speeches. While it might have worked in the play because the experience is first-hand, they do not translate well on screen. The poetic words strung together offer a wealth of wisdom but I was not convinced that the realizations, when expressed through speeches, ring true. It comes off trying too hard. It falls completely flat when an actress tries to push the words to create a semblance of strength when laying back or speaking softly might have been a better choice to match the message being delivered.

“For Colored Girls” might have been a stronger work if it were helmed by someone who has a more focused vision when it comes to which elements from a play should make it on screen as they are and which should be modified in order to preserve the essence of the material’s integrity. I am sure that the intention is not to make certain characters appear cartoonish or ridiculous, but that is exactly what happens when someone does not stop and ask whether something would work through a specific medium.

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