For Colored Girls

Can a who's who of talented black actresses rescue Tyler Perry?

Nov 5, 2010 at 12:00 am

For Colored Girls


Like a starlet with a drug conviction or a politician with a sex scandal, Tyler Perry ducks the media. He hasn't screened one of his films for mainstream reviewers since his 2005 debut, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and his sparse interviews since have been mostly with hand-picked, friendly outlets. Can you blame him? Perry has built a formidable media empire in a remarkably short time, and likely feels that the mainstream will never appreciate him or cut him enough slack. Well, he can run, but he can't hide.

Tyler Perry is the most influential African-American director since Spike Lee, and certainly the most financially successful ever, none of which can disguise that he's a terrible filmmaker.

Further evidence of his incompetence is displayed here, in a film blessed with a who's who of talented black actresses, a strong cast that by all means should've amounted to something more than this laughable muddle.

The story centers around a shabby apartment building (which seems to exist in a far grungier, vanished New York) in which lives of women of various ages and predicaments intertwine in the worn stairwells and hallways.

Thandie Newton is the village slut, her kid sis (Anika Noni Rose) is grappling with an unwanted pregnancy, and their harsh mother (Whoopi Goldberg) is too absorbed in her odd religious cult to do anything but fret and pray. Janet Jackson drops in from some weird alternate universe to play a ball-busting Devil Wears Prada-style mogul with a cheating husband "on the down-low." Other fine actresses such as Kerry Washington and Loretta Devine (and an unbelievable cameo by Macy Gray) grapple with such weighty issues as spousal abuse, infertility and HIV, which are treated with all the sensitivity of an after-school special.

For Colored Girls was adapted from Ntozake Shange's esteemed 1975 stage play, which was less a traditional narrative than a conceptual poem. Here that high concept gets forced through the sieve of Perry's typically ham-fisted histrionics, complete with overwrought acting and supercilious sermonizing. The action continually stops so someone can overemote some rambling, freeform poetry, and the toothsome word salads that these actresses are forced to chew on almost makes them choke. In the context of Perry's soapy shenanigans, the potentially moving words merely sound absurd and needlessly saccharine.

The shame is that Perry is ineptly attempting to tackle serious themes, and is aiming his message at an audience that is shamefully underserved. African-American women, and women in general, deserve to have a louder voice in movies, I just wish it were a truer one.