Review of Tyler Perry's 'For Colored Girls'

by Jenee D. of Cocoa Fly


Tyler Perry may have a lot to prove with his upcoming film “For Colored Girls." Perry is known for his black romantic comedies and critics doubt the filmmaker's writing skills are sharp enough for such a poignant drama. The film is an adaptation of Ntozake Shange's award-winning Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. The powerful work is a collection of, what Shange calls “choreopoems,” about the complexities of black female identity and our struggles. The play debuted in 1974 but her message about black girls blues still resonates today: abuse, infidelity, poverty, sexism, defining our sexuality, fighting for respect. The list goes on. I hoped Perry would successfully take on such a challenging project because of his passion for addressing some of black women's woes. As a black woman who loves movies, I've been thirsting for a good drama starring black actresses for a while. I mean real good like "The Women of Brewster Place" or "Soul Food." Perry chose a stellar cast--Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington and Tessa Thompson. His rendition takes place in a modern-day urban America. The acting is solid. Unfortunately, much of the script is not.

The first half of the film tries to connect all of the women through nine storylines. But watching their lives link feels choppy at times as it jumps scene to scene. However it comes together more seamlessly by the second half. Another problem is how Perry incorporates poems from Shange's original work into the script. Kerry Washington plays Kelly, a social worker married to Hill Harper's character Donald. In one scene Kelly explains to Donald she's infertile because of an STD she contracted years ago. She goes into a poem about a lover who cheated on her with one of her college friends: "Three of us like a pyramid. Three friends one laugh, one music, one flowered shawl knotted on each neck..." I read the play prior to watching the film and know this poem. But in this scene the poem doesn’t fit and may confuse some in the audience, especially those unfamiliar with the play. Another instance where prose comes off awkward occurs when Rashad's character Gilda babysits Crystal's (Kimberly Elise) children. Crystal and her husband get into a violent argument next door. Gilda tries to distract the kids and performs a few stanzas about her love for Hatian Revolution leader Toussaint L'Ouverture. It's difficult to pay attention to Gilda while Crystal is screaming and getting pummeled by her alcoholic husband.

The recurrence of dated language is another drawback to the film. The word “colored" appears a few times in the dialogue when actresses perform poetry. Shange wrote the play back in the ‘70s. The film is set in the present and black people don't use the word "colored" anymore. Watching a character type on a laptop then hearing someone describe themselves as a "colored woman" a few scenes later doesn't feel realistic.

"For Colored Girls" isn't all bad. The acting is strong and will not disappoint. Kimberly Elise stirs you as always. Loretta Devine is funny and vivid. Thandie Newton delivers as a troubled, selfish sex addict. She and Whoopi were matched perfectly as a mother and daughter with serious tensions. Singer Macy Gray's eerie portrayal of a back-alley abortionist will make you rethink ever having unsafe sex. It was a hauntingly-good scene and well directed. I felt the nervousness and vulnerability of her pregnant patient. Also, there are instances where Perry effectively integrates Shange’s poems into the script. Yasmin's (Anika Noni Rose) crime report to the police officer, in prose, is almost placid yet intense. Goldberg's and Newton's characters go into a poetic exchange filled with a lot passion and pain. And I enjoyed Devine’s colorful performance about a man almost running off with her "stuff" or her love and self.

"For Colored Girls" is not my favorite Tyler Perry film, but I recommend you see for yourself. Make sure to read the play first. It will help you gain a better understanding of the film. Although I hoped for something better, it was refreshing to watch an ensemble of talented black actresses in non-demeaning roles. Some of the best actresses in the industry are part of the cast. Notice I said not the best black actresses, but the best in general. I appreciate Perry for his effort because I imagine he wanted black women to feel empowered after watching the film. A few scenes moved me. Still, I left the theater feeling a little down because dramas starring black women are rare. A television or movie drama starring a black female cast is about as common as the Texas Rangers going to the World Series. Perry will probably do well at the box office because of the buzz surrounding "For Colored Girls" and his fan following. Hopefully, Hollywood execs will take note and this will be the start of more dramas starring black actresses to come. Hopefully.


Want more Jenee? Keep up with her on Cocoa Fly!



39 Weigh in!:
Anonymous said...

Dee said,
I thought Tyler did an excellent job. The movie depicted women from varies walks of life. I thought the characters that were chosen really owned the persons that they pro-trade. Four stars to Tyler for giving us quality films that tell our story.

Kemi said...

I've been looking for the play, where can it be found? All i can find in the anthology.

Cocoa Fly said...

Hi Kemi. I wrote this reveiw. You can read the play. The book is available in bookstores and on Amazon. You can also watch a version that aired on PBS in the 1980's. Lynn Whitfiled, Alfre Woodard and Ntozake Shange were in this production. That version may available at your local public library. That's how I saw it.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the film and I agree that way the poetry was woven into the script was far from seamless. However I applaud Perry and the cast. It is a film work seeing. The stories are identifiable and worth telling.

Abovealltherest said...

I saw an early screening of the play on Monday and I loved it! I have not read the book which I want to now after seeing the movie. I think Perry did a great job with incorporating the monologues into the film. Yes some of the language is outdated, but that is expected since the play was wrote in the 70s. I think it is a must see movie. It is a good girls night out movie. As a young woman 21, I felt everyone could relate to some aspect and if you personally cannot you know someone who has had an experience.

SaBrina said...

I just got back from seeing this movie tonight and thought that it was ok (B)rating. Since it's based on a play it was kind of boring when it went unto those parts during key moments of the story. But Thandie Newton to me personally I liked best out of all the characters. The audience did clap for the movie as it was ending, but overall the movie was good with a bit of hum can we speed this up at time moments.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest for anyone wanting to see the movie, to read the book or see the play first. It is a powerful piece of art and relevant to all women, not just women of color. I had the privilege of doing the play while I was in high school. You must definitely read the original work before really understanding the film.

Cocoa Fly said...

@Above All--As you read, I didn't care for the film, BUT, I'm glad it is giving Ntozake Shange more exposure, especially to a younger audience. I read in the NY Times she's releasing another book soon.

@SaBrina- I liked Thandie Newton's acting too. I read somewhere that Mariah Carie was supposed to play her role. Not sure if that's true, but Newton was a perfect fit for that role.

kimmie0810 said...

I'm on the fence about seeing it. Tyler has been "off" lately. I was NOT pleased with "Why Did I Get Married Too". His movies are so formulaic & beat u over the head with messages. But I support him & hope he gets better lol.

After hearing from his own mouth that he's never even read the original, I was shocked. I haven't either so he can't "ruin" it for me but I'm just trippin that he wouldn't bother to read it when I wanted to read it before seeing the movie! Bizarre.

Anonymous said...

I love Tyler Perry's success. He is truly the man, doing the dogone thing, but honestly Tyler has always been off. Bad editing, bad screenplays, but he sure can hire talent to play those crappy roles he creates. I'll give him that, but he needs to move the ego out of the way and hire some decent writers.

I can't believe so many AA women haven't read this book. I went to a white high school and it was required reading. What's up with that?

Good, sound review. I think I'll wait for the DVD. I'm bound to wish I had.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the movie. I give it two thumbs up :)

Natural Nini said...

I just left the movies and i loved it. I wanted to cry so bad but i remembered i had good laughs. I do admit that i wish i read the book to understand it more but overall i loved it. Can't wait for the dvd <3

Cocoa Fly said...

@ Kimmie--I read an article where Perry said he did the read the book. I would hope so since he used Shange's poems in the film. :)

@Anonymous #1--Thanks for the compliment. I read Shange's other work in college. But I didn't read "For Colored Girls..." until after college.

Anonymous said...

I saw it last night, and I enjoyed it. I do see, however, that people who don't like theater or poetry might not like it. I LOVED IT!!

Anonymous said...

I liked the message behind the movie but I did feel it was a little choppy, but Tyler brought all the pieces together nicely at the end. Bravo to great acting from the cast!!!

Alicia said...

I LOVED the movie! I am not looking for the book since I hear the book was so much better.

jonesable said...

I read the play a couple of years back and loved it.I'm debating about going to see it with my friends. While I love the cast I am not a fan of Perry's style of film making ;its often heavy handed. I still may go see it just for the message.

Anonymous said...

I MUST ADMIT I AM NOT A FAN OF TYLER PERRY'S MADEA FILMS BUT I TRY NOT TO JUDGE HIM EITHER..I HAVE READ THE BOOK AND LAST NIGHT I SAW The MOVIE, I THOUGHT HE DID A VERY GOOD JOB..THE CAST DID A WONDERFUL JOB, THE ACTING WAS GREAT..I THINK IF YOU READ THE BOOK THE MOVIE MAKES MORE SENSE, TYLER PERRY IS NOT A WOMAN, SO FOR HIM TO WANT TO BRING THIS FILM ABOUT WOMEN TO LIFE I RESPECT HIM FOR THAT..WHO ELSE IN HOLLYWOOD WOULD DO THAT? I THINK ITS TIME FOR PEOPLE TO STOP CRITICIZING HIM, HE IS HUMAN, HE IS TRYING AND HE DID A GREAT JOB..TWO THUMBS UP

Verde Butterfly said...

I saw it last night and I thought it was excellent!! I know everyone is going to see it through different perspectives, but the acting was great and the weaving of the poem into the film was good. Its quite a departure from other Tyler Perry films. Definitely worth seeing!

kimmie0810 said...

Cocoa Fly he must have fibbed & didn't remember lol. Here's the link to an interview where he says he never read it. He says he saw a video though.


http://statenisland.ny1.com/content/ny1_living/movie_reviews/127865/ny%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%201-movie-interview---for-colored-girls

Cocoa Fly said...

@ Kimmie--Okay I saw the video. I read an article where he said he read the play twice. I'll have to look for it. Unless, they producers edited out where he said he the read book, then maybe he didn't. I don't know. I'll try to hunt for the article I read. Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

I loved it!

Smply Swt said...

I completely agree with this review! I purposely waited to go and watch the movie before I read this because I wanted to go in there with an open mind. The acting was as stellar, rock-solid as any one could ever ask for BUT the directorial efforts of Perry was very much lacking. It was not fluid at all. It really felt like he was trying too hard instead letting the outstanding performances just speak for themselves.
I do give Perry credit for taking on a challenge perhaps another challenge may have better suited him.
But on a positive note, the entire cast all gave Oscar-worthy performances.

Dolores said...

I liked the film. Like his other films, the plot, acting and script were over the top. This caused many people in the theater to laugh during many scenes. This laughter made it easier to get through the film because the subject matter was so heavy. I did not find the movie to be empowering though. Nothing good happened to any of the characters. The solution to their problems was to avoid men and sex. Not cool. I also thought the movie was pretty easy to understand without having read the book.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVED this movie. I read this review first and completely disagree with it. The fact that I haven't read the play may be coloring my opinion, but this is my new favorite move. I went with a large group of women and it seems as if there were women who either loved it and were amazed, and those who didn't like it at all. I loved the way the monologues were woven into the movie. They were poetic and powerful and rhythmic. I hope that this movie isn't ignored or hung out to dry by Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie earlier and I must say I was thoroughly moved and shed tears during the "window" scene. Kimberly Elise deserves an Oscar nom; her performance was fearless and vulnerable at the same time. I think Mr. Perry did a fabulous job weaving the 1970's play into 21st century media. Thandie Newton cracked me up with her "no cussing" self. All, in all, it is definitely worth seeing. This is Tyler's "Precious." Bravo!

DvaAuNaturel said...

I thought the film was excellent. Yes, the poems were interspersed awkwardly at times throughout but I presume Tyler Perry was trying to stay true to Ms. Shange's original work. You definitely have to pay attention to the movie. I found myself just a tad confused at times with some of the quick scene changes.

My book club will be reading the original work and I plan to resee the movie. I think many of the stories about the women's lives are relatable and there are many takeaways, IMO, from the film. Love of self, acceptance, overcoming past hurt, etc. My heart broke at some of the stories because unfortunately they are true for some women.

@Cocoa Fly - Mariah Carey was supposed to be in the film. She left filming due to her pregnancy. I'm sure it's online somewhere. Thandie Newton actually mentioned it on The View just last week as well.

ashley said...

I think the review is tarnished b/c the reviewer had seen the original play. It's like going to watch a re-make of a movie knowing how good the original was. There's an automatic bias there. I also feel like the use of the word "colored" is more than a word, but a mentality. Even though we exist in 2010, many black women have not lost those same stigmas that women back in the 60's and 70's experienced/exuded. I have not seen the movie, but I have read a few excerpts of poems from the book which are POWERFUL! Any media with such powerful words for black woman is much needed in today's dumbed-down, ignorant society. I was born in 1987 and had not heard about "For Colored Girls..." until the Tyler Perry movie, so kudos there! I can always appreciate good art and lately, black art has been lacking. I ordered the book and I can't wait to see the movie! Maybe after I see the movie, I will see the play so that I can appreciate the movie more. Thanks www.CurlyNikki.com

Nikki said...

I did not know this was a movie review blog. I loved the movie and I'm a little ticked off that you telling people what going on, instead of letting them go out and support the movie and make their own analogies.

Anonymous said...

@Ashley, I completely agree with you. I was born in 76 and had never heard about "For Colored Girl". I'm sure in some institutions it was required reading or viewing but unfortunately not mine. I saw the film last night with a group of women and we all loved the film. The acting was AMAZING!!!!! I've not been a fan of Perry's movies either but I thank him for introducing this piece work to those who knew nothing about it.

Cocoa Fly said...

@Nikki--Would you be ticked off if I said I loved the film? This review was also published on the Huffington Post and quite a few people were angry because I didn't fall in love with the film. This review is my opinion of the movie. Some people, like you and others who have commented on this post, love the movie. And I respect those opinions of the film. I've also received other comments, like yours, where people felt that I'm trying to tell them how they should view this film. That is not the case. Something you may want to try in the future that I do, and I say this with respect, when I want to see a film or have seen a film, but don't want critics' opinions, I skip reading the reviews. Or I do what a lot of movie goers did this weekend-- dismiss early reviews and support the film anyway. TP is projected to gross $20+ million on opening weekend.

Cocoa Fly said...

@DvaAuNature--Thanks! I missed that episode of "The View."

Anonymous said...

Honestly, regardless of the quality of this adaptation, I'm just tired of the only big-budget opportunities the Black community gets are used to highlight the worst aspects of that community. When movies like "Why Did I Get Married" are followed by "Precious", which are followed by "For Colored Girls", what message does the public receive about the private lives of Black folk? Why are the only options in Black films pure buffoonery/minstrelsy or graphic violence/abuse/neglect? We KNOW we are more subtly complex than that!

Anonymous said...

@ the comment above^

I have to agree. Tyler Perry films are so stereotypical. In my opinion I think he needs some new material.

Anonymous said...

^^^^^ I agree. This is why i'm not going see this film. I'm just tired of these types of black films. It's depressing and I'm too happy right now to let sterotypical movies bring my spirit down.

koko said...

i AGREE with Ashley BUT I actually saw the movie I have not seen or read the play or poems,but I understood the art and the message he was relaying...it is a mental thought I think any woman will appreciate this movie and it helped me have an appreciation for sisterhood and not just think about myself and my little world lol

aesats said...

I didn't love the movie. I read the play back in college, but didn't go in expecting a comparative piece to the play.... The acting was GREAT, for such a limited, bland script. There was no mystery, no forshadowing, no eagerness, no excitement. Basically predictable and boring. Movies should be so much more than just scenes on a screen. Yes, there was plenty of humor to ease the downright AWFUL subject matter, but I feel like the film left much to be desired... We all know these stories. Even if we haven't experienced them ourselves. How many times do they have to be told?? And I felt like the themes were not at all exclusive to Black women. Any woman can go through those awful things. And there was no resolution. They just hugged it out at the end. You assume they'll be there to support eachother... I wish Tyler would have really taken it there artistically with this film!!! The poetry is awsome and so vivid, yet the cinematography, script, sets, wardrobe, BLEEK and bland. He could have done so much with this, making it more whimsical and lively and hard hitting. I don't really feel this particular movie needed to be made at all... :(

MsFenty said...

I haven't seen or read the play, and I liked the movie overall. However, I felt that there was no hope in it, there was just so many horrible events. I don't know if it's fair to blame that on Tyler Perry or the original writer of the play (mainly because I didn't read or see it). However, it was very realistic in my opinion as in I felt like I was in some of the scenes while I was watching it, and that is not something that I've gotten from many other movies.

I have to wonder about the comments that imply that black movies only seem to portray us in a negative light, because I disagree. All of these events happen to many different types of women across cultures and I was actually thinking that as I was watching it. I think a person would have to be a complete fool to watch this one movie and think "damn, the lives of black people suck", I think we can give people more credit than that.
And on the flip side if I was to look @ movies and make assumptions about white people, I would think they were all sadistic serial killers, and had strange dysfunctional romantic relationships (romantic comedies) and were obsessed with sex (American Pie movies, etc). I do agree that there should be more positive portrayals of black people in the media in general, but I'm not going to blame that on a few big budget movies. Also I respect that not everyone is not a Tyler Perry fan, but I think he also portrays many black people in a positive light, most of his leading ladies and men are multidimensional characters. So I'm guessing the issue w/the buffoonery is due to the Madea and Mr.Brown characters?

cdona said...

Uhmm...interesting comments. I did go see this movie with a few friends. I have not read the play or book as of yet. I think Tyler did a good job with the movie. The cast was awesome! The stories were heavy to say the least but real all the same. I don't understand why so much accountability is placed on Tyler and his movies. It's entertainment! I laugh at Madea and Brown and I cried at For Colored Girls. It does provoke dialouge but to say that I'm proud of what all Tyler has accomplished is an understatement. I hope this is not his Beloved because I read that book and saw that movie and loved them both. But got bashed in reviews. It's a movie! He did a very good job! and if nothing else it should prompt people to start reading and that's a powerful thing!

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