If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that Tyler Perry is marketable. With two successful televisions shows and many profitable movies under his belt, he has a track record of excellence, at least in the monetary sense. The quality of his work can be debated (all but one of his movies are rotten at the popular critic review aggregator site, Rotten Tomatoes), but not by me. I had yet to see a Tyler Perry movie before stepping in the theater to see For Colored Girls and, frankly, it doesn’t make me want to rush out to see another one.
Based on the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” the film is a collection of mini-stories about what it’s like to be a woman of color dealing with issues of rape, abortion, infidelity and more. Within those stories, there’s Crystal (Kimberly Elise), a woman who battles with her abusive boyfriend (Michael Ealy) and tries to keep her two children safe from his violent, alcohol fueled rampages. Coming into her life is Kelly (Kerry Washington), who works for child services and is making sure Crystal’s kids are living in a safe environment. She has problems of her own and can’t conceive with her boyfriend (Hill Harper) thanks to a damaged uterus brought on by an event she’d rather forget. Also in Crystal’s life is her boss, Jo (Janet Jackson), who takes her frustration from home out on her because she thinks her husband may be gay.
Meanwhile, Juanita (Loretta Devine), working through a non-profit organization, is trying to get a donation from Jo while wondering in the back of her mind if her husband Frank (Richard Lawson) is cheating on her. Elsewhere, Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) is falling head over heels for a man she barely knows, though he’s about to do something to her that is unforgivable. She teaches a ballet class where one of her students, Nyla (Tessa Thompson), has just discovered she’s pregnant after recently losing her virginity. Nyla’s mother, (Whoopi Goldberg) is an overly religious woman who shuns that type of thing, so she visits her slutty sister, Tangie (Thandie Newton) to borrow some money to pay for a back alley abortionist (Macy Gray) in the hopes of keeping it all quiet.
Did I get them all? It seems like a lot, but I’m sure I’m missing somebody. For Colored Girls suffers from the same main affliction as this year’s abominable Twelve. It has way too many characters and keeping track of them proves difficult. As a critic, I take notes during screenings to ensure I can come home and properly convey how I felt while watching a movie, but for this, I mostly wrote down character names, what they were doing, who they were related to and how their lives intersected with each other. Despite that, I’m still not positive I’ve fully wrapped my head around it all.
For Colored Girls also suffers from over-the-top theatrics that come off as laughable, despite the heavy handed subject matter. I'm well aware that this movie is adapted from a stage play, but watching Whoopi Goldberg forcefully pound on a door while she screams at her trampy daughter to repent for her sins is a bit much.
The exaggerated mannerisms can be distracting, but it’s the dialogue that suffers most. The characters all speak in long winded, metaphor filled soliloquies that feel like they were taken verbatim from the play. While this probably works on the stage, it doesn't translate well to the screen. People simply do not talk like that and any type of message on race, ethnicity and the hardships that accompany girls of color are lost in a sea of daft discourse.
Although For Colored Girls is a truly wretched film, it has its heart in the right place and you’ll feel for the girls as these terrible things begin to happen for them. The post-trauma emotional breakdowns are difficult to watch because they hit hard. The actresses, specifically Anika Noni Rose, who does hers all in one take, really bring out the anger, pain and sadness one would feel after going through such events.
However, those breakdowns all follow one after the other. With no downtime, it becomes emotional overload. That there’s any emotion to pull from a movie so ludicrous is nothing short of a miracle itself and its rapid fire discharge strips it away of whatever tiny morsel of feeling it may have had otherwise.
The best thing For Colored Girls has going for it is its style. It looks good, but even that proves to be a burden on the film. In a late scene, footage of a beautiful opera is intercut with footage of a brutal rape, romanticizing the appalling deed in a way that is rather distasteful. Take into account, however, that the following scene drew unintentional laughter and you should have an indication of everything that is wrong with For Colored Girls.
For Colored Girls receives 1/5