There have been rumblings that For Colored Girls is director Tyler Perry's best work. If that's true, then I fear for what that says about his career as a filmmaker. The movie is based on the Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which first hit the stage in 1975. Perry's adaptation is a sloppy effort, as he has foregone any sort of updating or modernization of the 35-year-old production, choosing instead to exploit timeworn clichés to portray the dramatic lives of several African American women living in New York City.
It's a shame, because Perry has many fine actresses in his cast, like Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington, and Whoopi Goldberg. The movie follows them over the course of a few days, as each character endures a horrific ordeal (think rape, abortion, and physical abuse). Perry is going for a powerful, extravagantly theatrical feeling, but each story plays out like an after-school special.
To read about the problems I had with For Colored Girls, just read more.
The individual skills of each actress are underutilized, except for perhaps Newton, who plays a woman so emotionally abused that she turns to promiscuity to avoid real relationships. The character is so familiar it's a stereotype, and the other personalities are even more overused. Janet Jackson plays a successful magazine editor, whose clothing, manner, and dialogue are ripped straight from The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly. Even the storytelling devices are laughably familiar; for instance, to show that a teen character is pregnant, she suddenly vomits during a dance practice. Subtle.
When Perry isn't using contrived tactics to move the plot forward, he crosses lines with gratuitous violence. There's one scene so extreme (made harder to watch by the tactless way it's filmed) that I wanted to walk out of the theater. Perry seems like he's striving to make a film as weighty as Precious, but he only gets close to the realm of soap opera.
It's clear that the women are supposed to be perceived as warriors, but they're really just victims. Rather than find a way to show their strength, the characters are simply put in peril. What's more, the danger they face is almost exclusively at the hands of men, who are wholly portrayed as monsters. It's another kind of stereotyping, and potentially more offensive than the way the female characters are depicted.
For Colored Girls completely misses the point it's trying to make, and only succeeds in being a caricature of other, better films that have tackled the same subject matter.