Tuesday, February 8, 2011

For Colored Girls DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Tyler Perry Adaptation of Black Feminist Classic Comes to DVD

Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf made a big splash when it debuted on Broadway back in the Seventies. The emotionally-draining “choreopoem” was essentially a series of soul-baring monologues plumbing the depths of the African-American female psyche on sensitive subjects ranging from sexuality to spirituality. Performed by a nameless cast of seven troubled women, this hybrid of drama and poetry met with critical acclaim, although it particularly resonated with sisters.
Ms. Shange subsequently wrote the screenplay for a made-for-TV version of her opus which aired on PBS’ American Playhouse in 1982. And she also appeared in the movie version opposite Alfre Woodard, Sophie Okenedo and Lynn Whitfield.
The unenviable challenge of adapting her much-beloved production to the big screen has now fallen to Tyler Perry, a man who proves himself up to the challenge. He ostensibly began by abbreviating the original’s cumbersome, grammatically-challenged name, which only makes sense, since it had been coined back during a more loquacious era when wordy was fashionable not only in terms of movie titles (Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) but in advertising slogans (“Vicks’ Nyquil: The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine”) as well.
Next, the inventive Perry fleshed out the lead roles, while adding a number of support characters to the ensemble and updating some themes (ala AIDS and the down-low) as concessions to 21st Century cultural sensibilities. More importantly, however, he has preserved the source material’s relentlessly-harrowing tone.
Loyal Perry fans will appreciate how the enhanced plotline emulates those of his ever-popular morality plays, sans Tyler’s trademark touches of humor. The stellar cast assembled to execute his vision includes Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Macy Gray, Anika Noni Rose and Whoopi Goldberg.
The story is set in a seedy, Harlem tenement inhabited by several of the protagonists. Each, we learn, is already deeply enmeshed in some sort of family dysfunction, from promiscuous bartender Tangie (Newton) to her pregnant, teenage sister (Tessa Thompson) to their clueless, cult member mother (Goldberg). Then there’s the apartment building’s relatively-composed manager (Rashad) whose self-assured manner might be a mask.
On another floor, we find Crystal (Elise) being battered by the unemployed, alcoholic boyfriend (Michael Ealy). Elsewhere there’s Juanita (Devine), a free clinic nurse who counsels others about relationships, but remains in denial about the abysmal state of her own. Naïve dance instructor Yasmine (Rose) comes to regret accepting a date from a flirtatious stranger (Khalil Kain) she meets on the street.
More upscale, but no less troubled, is Kelly (Washington), a social worker worried about how her police officer husband (Hill Harper) will react to the news that she can’t conceive. Lastly, there’s Jo (Jackson), a famous fashion magazine editor, whose closet-gay beau (Omari Hardwick) has been using her for a beard. Eventually, all of the assorted melodramas serendipitously merge and resolve themselves satisfactorily right on cue for a preachy Tyler Perry denouement during which our heroines take turns expressing their resolve to rise above their overwhelming personal challenges. The only thing missing from this fresh interpretation of a black feminist classic was a pistol-packing granny in drag, chirrun!

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity and disturbing violence including rape.
Running time: 134 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: An interactive documentary, the making of featurette, songs from the soundtrack, and more.

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