Tyler Perry’s best moments are when he’s dressed up as a woman and mispronouncing words like “Hellejujer.” The problem is, he’s not content on making movies that are just about Madea. He always has to throw a message somewhere in there, and the melodrama is usually laid on thick toward the end of his films. So, what happens when you give Tyler Perry the right to make a film adaptation of the stage play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf? You get a movie that, if handled by a better director, might have been a pretty spectacular drama. But instead, we get a serious Tyler Perry film that falls just short of greatness. Even so, this is definitely the best movie of his career. No question about it.
Give For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf to a more drama adept director, and you have a possible Oscar contender on your hands, as all of the poems that make up the play could have been really beautiful on screen. But give it to Tyler Perry, and you have a movie that has, “It could have been better” written all over it. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any other director who would have even pursued this project. Especially since the play itself doesn’t have any consistent narrative to it besides the poems. In that way, I guess you have a paradox (Or is it a Catch-22? I’m never quite sure which one I mean). You have a movie that would have been great if it had been handled by a better director, but nobody else would have taken it, and thus, it never would have been made in the first place, causing it to not exist.
Whew. Try wrapping your head around that one. Anyway, For Colored Girls is not a bad film, it’s just one of those pictures that you wish could have been handled by somebody better. At least Tyler Perry gave it his all this time. You can definitely tell. He tries to keep all of the preachy overtones from his other films to the wayside and just focuses on the story, and I applaud him for that. It shows growth.
The story consists of multiple African-American women who, while very few are directly related, all somehow fit into the same story. You really have an all-star cast here, as Loretta Devine, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, and even Whoopi Goldberg fit into the orbit of this story. It’s like a dream team of black actresses -- the female Harlem Globetrotters of film. I don’t know how else to put it. These women really steal the show. The movie, like the play, is told through poems, but Perry has somehow constructed a narrative around it that isn’t completely ridiculous. To try to sum up the story in one sentence, it’s basically black women having problems, which is pretty good material to work with. Black women very rarely have their voice heard in film, and definitely not on a grand scale like this. If only Perry didn’t fudge it all up in the third act we’d have a masterpiece on our hands here.
Remember when I mentioned up top that Mr. Perry likes to heavy-handedly throw melodrama at the end of his films? Well, his cry-me-an-ocean approach is all over this baby, as the melodrama is so thick toward the end that it’s almost unbearable. In one moment, Janet Jackson finds out a secret about her husband at an opera and a single teardrop rolls down her face as some large woman belts out her aria. It might not sound that bad, but just watch it for yourself, and you’re going to find it hard to see the screen from rolling your eyes so much.
Even so, For Colored Girls has a certain depth to it, and even gravitas at times. If you love Tyler Perry films for their silliness and harmless violence where guns go off but nobody gets hurt, then this isn’t the movie for you. But if you’re interested in the play even a little and want to give Mr. Perry a chance as a true artist, you may be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, you won’t be that surprised, as some of his old habits really die hard.
This disc contains a number of special features that really add to the quality of the film. You have “Span of the Rainbow,” which shows the history of the play, from Ntozake Shange’s poems, to its off-Broadway run, to Broadway, to it being a book, to it being a television film, until finally, we get to Tyler Perry’s movie. If you’re a fan of the play, this documentary is reason enough to pick up this DVD. But wait, there’s more! “Prism of Poems” actually lets you hear some of the poems from the movie and the play, which are definitely worth listening to a second time. They really make up the film.
“Transformation: Movie Magic,” reveals some interesting little tidbits from the movie that you never would have known if you didn’t watch it -- such as the opera scene in the film containing one of the poems from the play through the aria that’s being sung. “Living Portraits” is actually kind of creepy, as it has pictures of the stars of the film in still frames, but they’re still moving and talking. It gave me the chills. Music from the film wraps up the rest of the package. Overall, if you like the movie and you love the play, then this will be a nice companion piece. Pick it up.