For Colored Girls
For Colored Girls is Tyler Perry's adaptation of Ntozake Shange's 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. The award-winning play, a series of 20 poems, stands as a significant work in the African-American lit canon. But as Perry moves from the Madea comedies that made him famous to more serious work, he lacks the shading and nuance (and perhaps humility) to stave off melodrama.
The film follows the threads of nine women, many of whom are identified by a different color of the rainbow. These women are saddled with issues from abortion and abuse to infidelity and molestation, and we are not spared a single detail, as one violent rape scene makes clear. Fortunately, the performances by Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, and especially Kimberly Elise are strong enough to withstand the heavy material. It isn't long, however, before Perry's glib style seeps through his attempt to add contour to the framework of Shange's play.
Perry falters, maintaining a moral high ground that seems wholly out of place in a story about struggle. There is only a muted empathy for Newton's character, whose affinity for sleeping around stems from, predictably enough, sexual abuse she suffered as a child. And her impossibly swift epiphany — which could easily take years of therapy to work through — rings false. Only one male character is sympathetic: A closeted husband is outed and dismissed, as Perry introduces and then sidesteps a discussion of homosexuality in the black community. In the end, Perry strips away any hint of ambiguity, favoring instead the neat lessons of a fable: Don't sleep with random men. Don't take him back. Don't stay with him.
With all its flaws, Perry's adaptation may very well reach more audiences than a live theater performance would, and perhaps afterwards audiences will be drawn to Shange's original.
Opening Friday, November 5th, multiple locations