This week there is much more buzz on For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry's screen adaptation of Ntozake Shange's Tony-nominated 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. The much-anticipated film premiered yesterday in New York City—the Wall Street Journal has a red carpet slideshow—and the all-important trade reviews are scathing.
Perry might be very much in touch with his feminine side when he dons a dress and padding to play his larger-than-life character Madea, but his style is too crude and stagy for Shange's transformative evocation of black female life, and his moralizing strikes exactly the wrong notes to express the pain and longing that cries out from her heated poetry. Perry [forces] conventional plots and characters—utter cliches without lives or souls —into the fabric of Shange's literary work. The hackneyed melodramas get him from one poem to the next but run roughshod over the collective sense of who these women are. Then, when Perry arrives at the next poetic passage, the switch in writing between him and Shange is jarringly pronounced. The words belong to different worlds.
Perry situates his nine female protagonists in Harlem, supposedly in the modern day, but then how does a backroom abortion figure into this contemporary scene? Most of his women live in a crummy walk-up tenement, though not Janet Jackson's Jo, a high-powered magazine executive with a corner office and an East Side penthouse. Perry gives his frequent star no favors here, with hairdo, makeup and clothes that make her look like a mannequin. ... The male characters other than Hill Harper's police detective are all sick cartoons, existing only to perpetuate horrors on the women. In Perry's peculiar view, though, the women often collaborate in their victimhood.
Jo [is] a high-powered magazine editor who shares a sleek Gotham pad with her emasculated husband (Omari Hardwick), who leads a double life on the down-low. Jo's story feels the most patently Perry-fied thing about the film, reflecting the director's tendency to tackle key issues through pat, gently preachy examples (he similarly inserts lessons on contraception, venereal disease and religious fanaticism into other subplots). "Girls" never feels more like daytime television than in the scene where the couple have it out, back-to-back in an awkwardly blocked argument.
While Perry's craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach. Just as the director was finding the organic quality that eluded him in "Diary" and other early efforts, he's confronted with a conceptual piece that calls for an entirely different approach. Yet he can't resist turning "For Colored Girls" into a Tyler Perry Movie, which means imposing diva worship where nuance is called for and a pleasure-punishing Christian worldview where a certain moral ambiguity might have been more appropriate.
The Black press is a little more charitable. The Grio, which encourages everyone to see the film, agrees that it's too melodramatic and "comes across as a visual and an emotional assault."
For Colored Girls opens in wide release on Nov. 5. It goes without saying that the reviews probably won't impact the bottom line—like other Tyler Perry movies, it will probably open at Number One and do very well at the box office. I'm definitely going to see it—the cast is first rate—and will keep an open mind. Oh and a down low storyline from Tyler Perry? Tsk, tsk.