"Tyler Perry misses his target in 'For Colored Girls.'" – Movie Review

For all of his faults as a filmmaker, Tyler Perry has guts. Perry is a principled artist who delivers stories his way on his terms and has made a mint doing it. Critics be damned, Tyler Perry is one of the most successful filmmakers of the decade and he’s never had to compromise his vision to get there, whether you enjoy his vision or not.

Perry’s latest daring bit of storytelling is easily his biggest gamble, even bigger than dressing in drag to play Madea. “For Colored Girls” is an attempt to corral a 20 piece stage poem into a single dramatic narrative. Nearly a dozen different actresses, often breaking out in poetic verse, going through some of the ugliest trials ever brought to screen for a dramatic entertainment. It’s bold, it’s daring and it’s massive failure but it’s Tyler Perry’s unquestioned vision onscreen.

There are seven lead performances in “For Colored Girls.” They include Janet Jackson as a tyrant magazine editor dealing with a distant, possibly gay husband. Jackson’s assistant played by Kimberly Elise is an under-employed woman carrying a jobless, abusive husband and two kids. Her neighbor played by Thandie Newton is bartender who deals with childhood trauma with an endless line of sex partners.

Newton’s sister is played by Tessa Thompson and is an aspiring dancer with an accidental pregnancy. Their mother played by Whoopi Goldberg is a damaged woman whose own childhood drama sent her spiraling toward lunacy in some cultish religion. Thompson’s dance teacher, Anika Noni Rose, is a loving trusting soul who finds herself on the wrong side of the wrong man. Finally, Phylicia Rashad stars as an apartment manager slash den mother.

There are other roles as well for Kerry Washington as a social worker struggling to conceive and singer Macy Gray as a back alley abortionist as frightening as such a figure likely should be. Wrestling all of these characters into one narrative is a Herculean task. Add to that some spontaneous poetry and crushing dramatic turns involving murder, rape, abortion, Aids and spousal abuse and you have movie incapable of withstanding its own weight.

“For Colored Girls” is what you might call emotion porn. Tyler Perry crams every possible trauma into “For Colored Girls” and pummels the audience with poetic glimpses of women in the darkest depths of despair until even the most remote audience member can’t help but shed a tear. It’s the false emotion of manipulation but even if each tear is surgically extracted, they are there.

The cast of “For Colored Girls” is phenomenal with veteran Rashad as the stand out. Rashad’s character is Perry’s own invention, a narrative convenience used to tie otherwise disparate characters together. Her apartment is located right between those of Elise and Newton’s characters and she hears everything. Still, Rashad gives this character a rich emotional life. She is the beating, broken heart of “For Colored Girls.”

The rest of the cast is too busy being decimated by the Jobian burdens each is asked to carry. The despair visited upon these characters is an anchor that cannot be raised. Each actress at the very least is given a moment to shine but because that moment comes in poetic verse it resonates more as a stand alone monologue than as part of a narrative.

This is the bridge that Tyler Perry cannot cross in “For Colored Girls;” trying to make actresses breaking out into spontaneous poetic monologue feel like a natural dialogue in a typical narrative drama. He would have been better off breaking convention; take the poetic moments to a stage and break the fourth wall. Instead, Perry chooses to try to make it just like any other film drama and the effect is disjointed and unsatisfying.

Undoubtedly moving, “For Colored Girls” finds moments of great emotional force. All is undone however by a conventional approach to highly unconventional drama. “For Colored Girls” is bold and daring but fails because it was not bold and daring enough. Attempting to force all of this emotion into a singular narrative, especially one as conventionally staged as this, is a fool’s errand and it sinks an otherwise powerful idea.

Tyler Perry wildly misses his target in “For Colored Girls” but you have to respect the attempt. Few filmmakers would have the guts to even attempt to bring a complex, Female led, stage poem to the big screen. It’s fair to wonder if other filmmakers recognized how un-filmable this material is but it took a lot of guts to try and Perry’s effort has to be praised. Perry fails in “For Colored Girls” but he failed fearlessly and spectacularly.


Sean Patrick Kernan is a film critic. Check him out at: http://www.myspace.com/number1ramjamfan Email Sean at sean@zoiksonline.com.
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