Friday, December 26, 2014

Melodrama meets its match

Tyler Perry’s version of 'Colored Girls' clashes with original

About the movie
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf
Genre:
Drama
MPAA rating:
Unrated
Release date:
2011
Rating:
Cast:
Lynn Whitfield; Jill Scott; Angela Bassett; Tyler Perry; Halle Berry; Alfre Woodard; Oprah Winfrey
Directed by:
Tyler Perry

If you haven't considered suicide before you see Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls," you may by the time it's finished.

This is the movie for those who thought "Precious" was too Apatow. Indeed, it borrows Lee Daniels' rape scene - contrasting the assault with a shot of meat frying on a stove - and extends it by a minute or so, just in case you want to stretch that moment.

You also have kids dangled out of windows, deranged vets, back-alley abortions, and other horrors. Hamlet complained of the thousand indignities flesh is heir to, and at least 900 are covered here.

But let's be fair to Perry - he's taken on a monster job here, trying to adapt Ntozake Shange's beloved 1975 play ("For Colored Girls Who've Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf"), a job that presents a series of probably insurmountable challenges.

Shange constructed the play as series of poems and monologues, each illustrating a specific hardship of Harlem life - a kind of urban "Spoon River Anthology."

There is a long tradition of this drama-by-monologue onstage, but movies typically require the connective tissue of narrative, and this is where Perry struggles.

He fashions a "Crash"-like structure of narrative coincidence, adding a few characters of design, convenience, or contemporary relevance (a guy living on the down low) along the way. The difference between the Shange originals and Perry's contribution are stark and clashing.

Then there's Shange's language, which is more poetry than movie dialogue. Perry honors the source material by cutting and pasting whole chunks of it into the screenplay, followed by his own melodramatic, conversational dialogue.

So, you have passages of great lyricism followed by somebody saying we should be "there for each other."

Ouch.

For all of that, Perry does one thing really well - he gets great stuff from his cast. Kimberly Elise as a troubled veteran's terrified wife, Loretta Devine as a doormat tired of being stepped on, Phylicia Rashad as a neighbor whose nosiness is revealed to be compassion.

On the other hand, Whoopi Goldberg distracts as a woman whose devotion to a religious cult affects her relationships with her daughters - and goes overboard. Her fistfight with Thandie Newton looks like some particularly contentious episode of "The View."

Still, it's a movie to be seen for its performances, and Perry fans might be a bit disappointed to learn that he doesn't contribute one of his own. You have to cut him some slack. He had plenty to do just getting this ambitious project on screen.

Gary Thompson Daily News Film Critic
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