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A few words about For Colored Girls (UH OH! Get ready…..)

So reviews are starting to come out about Tyler Perry’s film version of Ntzoke Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls, and I might as well throw in my few cents into the mix. Some of our readers are anxious to hear what I’m going to say since… well… I’m definitely not known for holding back on my opinions, to say the least. So let me just be blunt and say that… I liked it. HUH? Say that again. I liked it. In fact I’ll go even farther to say that For Colored Girls is the best thing Perry has done to date.

I know, I know, I’m as shocked as you. This is probably the end of days. The coming of the apocalypse. Me, of all people, actually likes a Tyler Perry film and For Colored Girls on top of that, with its man bashing (I’ll get to that in a minute). But like I said earlier this week on S & A, anything “is possible in this best of all possible worlds” (to quote Leonard Bernstein’s musical Candide) and here most certainly is proof.

Now I know that it may not be saying much to say this is Perry’s best film, considering the typical low quality, ramshackle work of his previous films. But honestly if his name wasn’t on the credits, I would have sworn someone else directed this film. That’s how much he stepped up his game on this film. It helps tremendously that he uses a different cinematographer for the first time than the hack he’s used on all his earlier movies. The film simply looks better than his previous films. But also I know for a fact that Shange had final script approval and Perry kept rewriting the script to satisfy her. That tells me that Perry really did respect the original source material, and knew he had to deliver this time, or else he would have been ridden out of town on a rail.  He also takes full credit for the screenplay which means he totally rewrote Nzingha Stewart’s original screenplay. (I would love now to read her version).

First of all, the thing that struck me the most is that there are things in this film that he’s never done before in any of his previous movies, mainly subtlety and nuance. Gone is the bombast, the heavy handiness, the over-the-top acting, the lame comedy, the sermons, the black 70′s sit-com approach with its flat, over lit cinematography.  And the film is even more cinematic than his usual stagy approach. He even goes for some cross cutting between scenes for dramatic effect.

Story-wise, you can argue that it is thin plot wise. He concocts a story in which the women in the film are either living in the same apartment building or working for one of them. As a result, it does tend to drag on during the last third of the film (which runs a solid two hours). You can see Perry trying to come up with new plot twists in order to keep the story going. And the transitions from dialogue to Shange’s poetry is rather mixed. Sometimes it’s seamless and other times it’s just plain clumsy especially during the beginning of the film. You can hear the gears shifting like a old car.

And yes, all you male readers out there. I have to warn you, just as you suspected, it is something of a black man’s bashing festival. With the exception of Hill Harper’s character, the rest are pretty much scum. (But you knew that didn’t you?) But Perry clearly tries to give the men some depth and understanding, though in his limited way, trying to show their anguish and confusion to explain why they are what they are.

And the women don’t get off the hook so easily either. A few of them make horrible decisions which they wind up paying for.  It’s not going to make some women happy who want to stick to the image of women being helpless victims set upon by evil men. Responsibility is a two way street. And I have to mention that it’s pretty obvious, at least to me, that there are sequences in the film in which Perry, is, in some way, trying to work out his own confused sexual identity issues. (Hey don’t jump on me. Perry made that pretty clear himself in that Oprah interview this week that he’s got issues)

Performance-wise, everyone is damn solid. Some, of course, stand out because their characters are more vividly written. It’s obvious that they’re going for Oscar nominations. As for a best picture or director that’s right now unlikely. Unless they’re really pushed to find a 10th picture candidate. But I can practically guarantee you that Thandie Newton is going to get one for Best Supporting actress, since her part is the showiest. (And also since she herself is about to start a nationwide PR tour for the film, meaning that Lionsgate thinks she has a genuine shot). Janet Jackson and Kimberly Elise are also real two stand outs, since their characters go through the most dramatic arcs, but there isn’t a weak link in the bunch and it takes skill as a director to give everyone their due.

Now does this means that Perry is all of a sudden a great director? Not hardly. He needs to make a couple more good films, and even then that’s not enough. What’s even worse is that it is depressing that his next film Madea’s Big Happy Family means he’s going back to the same ol’ same ol’. But clearly when he wants to, and puts his mind to it, he can deliver.

I’m sure many of you will want to express your opinions of the film when it comes out, and we will definitely provide you with a forum for that. Like Previous it’s certain to be a film that’s going to divide people. But for now I’ve spoke my peace. Take it for what you will.

39 comments to A few words about For Colored Girls (UH OH! Get ready…..)

  • Thanks for your unbiased review Sergio.

  • Terrance

    I called it that Thandie would be a standout. I hope she does in fact get atleast get nominated. After reading this reviewing I wanna see it mire than ever now. Good stuff!

  • “Gone is the bombast, the heavy handiness, the over-the-top acting, the lame comedy,the sermons, the black 70′s sit-com approach with its flat, over lit cinematography. And the film is even more cinematic than his usual stagy approach. He even goes for some cross cutting between scenes for dramatic effect”

    Well Sergio, now we’re talking about something. I never quite knew how to voice my displeasure of Tyler’s films, but you did a fine job. With his style, I always felt as if he was pimp slapping me.

    Plus, I don’t know how much control the cinematographer has. I mean, I know the scope of their job, but some directors have their fingerprints on every aspect of the final product, and I was wondering how Tyler Perry fits in that mix.

    I beleive it’s only fitting that Thandie Newton raises to the top. Well, of all the other actors, imo, considering the racial climate of Hollywood, I think she’s the “safest” bet. On top of that, she can act and she has a broad resume.

    Although many may be surprised at the positive tone of your review, I still felt the “insurance” in your bet. Oh no, you didn’t put all your money on black. Yo momma didn’t raise no fool.

    I’m not going to mention your escape clauses (they’re there, but not now), but if we ever get a chance to have a cup of coffee, I’ll have to see if my assumptions are true. And, as I said in a previous post, I might go see this, but after further review, I am leaning toward MIGHT, not I will.

    Good post.

    • Jilda

      I’m sure Tyler Perry does have his fingerprints on everything for his films. That includes him hiring a poor cinematographer. However, that doesn’t mean that if he gets a competent cinematographer his films will look good. I think the problem with Tyler Perry is that he just doesn’t take advice from his cast and crew. There have been directors with even less experience than him that made much more visually stunning films because they listened to more experienced people around them. Tyler Perry’s films almost seem like he’s not thinking too much while making them. He’s just turning a camera on and pointing. Sometimes, you just have to swallow your pride and realize you don’t know everything and let people help you out and then later you will know. I can tell from the trailer that he at least put some thought into this film and probably got some help to create a visual world.

  • MotownMusicLvr

    I knew it would be good! All of his movies have been phenomenal! I don’t know which Tyler Perry films you have been watching! If I had to pick 2 films that were good…but not as good as the rest…I would say “Meet the Browns” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” and I did like them. The brotha is talented and I look forward to his future films and projects! Go TP!

  • Folks, I think we’re being “punked” by Sergio. Or maybe it’s a real-life “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” and this isn’t the real Sergio posting this :)

    Reading this after reading that horrible Hollywood Reporter review ramps up the intrigue. 2 people who’ve seen the same film have such disparate readings of it. Polarizing it certainly will be.

    I think this is the first review by a non-white writer, and I’m curious to see if race will play a factor in its reception, and how exactly.

    Well, I’ll share my own thoughts on it next weekend!

    • Jilda

      Or maybe the bad reviews just came out first and the film’s reviews overall will be decent. That’s happened before.

      • blakdiamon

        Or maybe Sergio’s review will simply be against the majority like it was for “The Social Network”.

        I can’t help but think that some reviewers might have some type of hostility against Perry since this is his first film viewed for critics since “Diary of a…” They may let him have it, just to make up for lost time.

    • But Tambay, if you really look for what Sergio was not saying, he has “out clauses”. He didn’t say it was the best thing since sliced white bread, he qualified his opinions very tightly.

      I noticed he did say this movie will not get a sniff of an Oscar nod. And, considering this year’s poor crop of movies, that’s not saying much for Colored Girls.

      After reading Sergio’s “short clip review” I felt as if I heard the words of someone who was trying to get a date for their ugly overweight cousin… you know, “they’re a sharp dresser and a very nice person”.

      Yeeeeah riiiight *wink-wink*

    • Sergio

      ALAS! We…have…been…discovered!…We..are…aliens…from…the…planet…Extocronon…and…we…all..believe…that…Tyler…Perry…is…the…greatest…filmmaker…in…the…history…of…planet…Earth…cinema…and…we…have…taken…control…of…Sergio’s…brain….in…our…master…plan…for…total…world…domination…for…Tyler…Perry.

      We…have…already…taken…control…of…millions…of…black…women’s…minds…and…now…we…are …after…black…men.

    • LOL. My sentiments, exactly!

      When I received an email from Sergio saying he actually liked it, I was waiting for the “psyche!” email to follow. And then he posts this…

      I wanna know what Lionsgate paid him. :D

      Although, it must be said, I did feel quite encouraged by the trailer.

  • Cord

    Wow that’s good to see that you liked it. It’s also funny how Thandie is getting the Oscar buzz when she replaced Mariah Carey. Sergio how was Macy Gray in the film?

    • Sergio

      To answer your question she’s quite good like everyone else, but only appears in one scene in the film and I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll have to see for yourself. Though you can argue she plays in the film the same sort of part whe always seems to play in a movie. That is someone who is really f_____d up.

  • Terrance

    I just read the Variety review of this, and of course they said it’s terrible. The only thing they raved about was the acting. I think race is playing a factor, and the general dislike of Tyler Perry anyways. But whatever, won’t judge it until I see it

  • blkchik

    “First of all, the thing that struck me the most is that there are things in this film that he’s never done before in any of his previous movies, mainly subtlety and nuance. Gone is the bombast, the heavy handiness, the over-the-top acting, the lame comedy, the sermons, the black 70′s sit-com approach with its flat, over lit cinematography. And the film is even more cinematic than his usual stagy approach. He even goes for some cross cutting between scenes for dramatic effect.”

    For real? I will believe this when I see it. I just have a hard time believing Tyler finally embraced subtlety. Even his movie titles aren’t subtle.

  • Sergio

    I honestly hope that are people who will disagree with me and voice their opinions. No “like mindthink” here. Let’s not be polite and play it safe. Let’s scream at each other.

  • Blutopaz

    Sounds like the film also rewards those who cling desperately to the image of all the poor Black men being relentlessly persecuted by feminists.

  • Zeus

    The play is classified as a FEMINIST play and now folks want to hide their hands because some men DARED to call it what it is.

    CLASSIC. :)

    • Blutopaz

      There is nothing daring about referring to the play for what it is- it has always been regarded as feminist. The point is there are many who see that as the other f word, as if Black women have no business being feminists. Read your history, this is nothing new.

      It would be daring if a male filmmaker decided to counter these images with what is actually going right in our communities, instead of the constant whining about being picked on by the Black man bashers, I mean feminists.

      • Zeus

        It’s the same kind of “whining” that points out films that depict women as whores, gold diggers and air heads.

        Men have no reason to GET ALL EXCITED about a yet another film that generalizes men as selfish tyrants. It may be some folks wet dream but others have a right not to join the bash fest. Thus is why film is objective. :)

  • LvFlg

    well Variety is not afraid to pan what it doesn’t like. fyi – lots & lots of white films are regularly panned by Variety.

  • Vio12

    Great review, Sergio!!! I must say, I’m taken aback by your review, since I was expecting something quite the opposite from what you wrote. If I may ask, though, how was Crystal and the “window scene” handled? Was it exploitative/gratuitous or done in a sensitive fashion?

  • Sergio

    You know, I really don’t want to give away too much. I would prefer for people to see the film for themselves and make up their minds on whether it works for them or not and be willing to express them here on S & A.

  • I’m looking forward to Thandie’s performance.

  • Maya

    @blutopaz

    You seem to take this play and now movie a LITTLE too personal. Everything you wrote can be flipped. How about the black women bashing that occurs by black males in movies and rap videos!

  • economista

    Tyler Perry is an unabashedly Christian filmmaker, and his Christian worldview always seeps into his movies… in the same way as any other filmmaker with an identity that defines him or her (…Lisa Kudurenko, I’m looking at you…). The big problem that Perry faces is that any whiff of a Christian worldview is immediately denounced by mainstream Hollywood as “moralizing” or “soap-opera” style. Add in the fact that he makes movies about black people, and everyone has an opinion on how to “correctly” portray our lives on film – and there’s no way that any of these reviewers can be impartial when they review his work. He is and always will be persona non grata . So, I don’t really pay attention to the reviews of his movies. If the story sounds interesting, I go; if it wasn’t the most transformative and stunning movie experience ever, well, neither were the last 10 Oscar “Best Movie” winners (oh, except for Gladiator and Lord of the Rings).

    (sorry if the html didn’t work, I don’t really know how to use it!)

    • economista, that’s an interesting perspective, however, I do not believe much of it is true.

      First, I would not know what a “Christian” looks like, or if they were a Christian, until they told me so. Consequently I have no idea what you mean by Perry an “unabashedly Christian filmmaker (and I doubt anyone else does).

      Secondly, if Perry’s product gives the flavor of “moralizing” or “soap-opera” style, then, hey, it is what it is. Besides that, although some might come to a conclusion (like you) that Mr Perry is trying to move a Christian message (whiff of), the garbage around that message, “pimping young female’s bodies”, “dope smoking grandmas”, “infidelity”, “making jokes of domestic violence and drug addiction” etc, trumps any small whiff of a Christian message.

      If you fall for Perry’s raising of the Christian flag, I can see how you thought Gladiators was the best Oscar movie of the last 10 years.

      But wait…

      “Add in the fact that he makes movies about black people, and everyone has an opinion on how to “correctly” portray our lives on film – and there’s no way that any of these reviewers can be impartial when they review his work”

      Ooooh, so that’s what it is? It can’t be the final product… it’s the reviewers fault.

      But wait, we’re not done…

      “If the story sounds interesting, I go”

      Really? No… REALLY? Okay… interesting, uuummmm?

    • Do you mean Lisa Cholodenko, or are you looking at someone else?

  • Annie Hunt

    I saw the play, For Colored Girls and I will probably not go see the movie. This has nothing to do with the fact Tyler Perry (Jack of all Trades) is involved. I don’t want to damage my experience of the play with the movie. Its like when you read the book and then go see the movie. You just sit there and compare while you’re watching it. I just hope one day the younger generation will be able to see the production on stage. Believe me, it is an experience they will never forget.

  • keirpayton

    I saw the play in the 90′s. I was in college and the message was empowering and liberating. TO me I saw the struggle of black women, but it spoke to the whole “we are bent but not broken” mantra. The stories were sad at times, mixed with a little humor, but beautifully portrayed. Fast forward to the TP rendition, and I did not see a message of empowerment, or liberation. What I saw was atypical Tyler Perry movie. Chuck full of melodrama and stereotypes. I’m not gonna ruin it for those that have not seen it yet, but I will shake my damn head at the faux pas of casting Janet Jackson as anything other than a dancing pop singer. SHE CAN’T ACT!!!!!! Her performance is so flat and if you close your eyes (or even squint a little) you will swear it’s Michael on the screen. I’d give him ten Oscar’s for his role as The Scarecrow in the Wiz before I’d give her a bootleg Soul Train Movie Award for this nonsense. Aside from her, the other characters did manage to at times deliver good performances, but it all seemed very…..how shall I say it….FORCED! There was no real chemistry and everytime you might almost get pulled in emotionally, the film would change gears abruptly. Thandi Newton seemed more like a drunk and over acted a bit. Kerry Washington’s back story wreaked of Melodrama, as did Janet Jackson’s for that matter. The poems, which I grew to love in the 90′s were often awkwardly placed. A lot of the camera angles were sloppy, and the sets looked like sets especially Whoopie Goldbergs apartment. I am not sure who started the “Oscar Buzz” rumor, but I just don’t see it. This might be a good Tyler Perry movie, but the Tyler Perry bar is so low, is that really saying anything?

  • Gregory

    Some of you take your opinions way to seriously I went to see a work that has long since been forgotten and only remembered when Tyler Perry was brining it to the big screen, when mentioning Great aa stories that have been on broadway in all my 35 years never heard for colored girls being mentioned as one of them. I went to see the movie on Friday with my wife and I enjoyed every performance I wasnt going in to pick it apart look for leaves where their should have been snow, It was a movie with great performances including Janet Jackson’s. Hating on TP gets you know where his voice is being heard and apparently people want to hear it, either get your voice heard or stop complaining about everything the man does.

  • Imani

    I LOVE TYLER PERRY AND ALL THAT HE HAS DONE, ( HANDS DOWN ) At Least Someone Took The Time To Show Other People How Many African American Lives. i Dont Care How He Does, He Just Does. And Typical Work?? Please Every Movie Done is Typical Or it Would NEVER Happen In Reality. So Let Tyler Perry Do His Thing, Because in The End He is Way Above Us All. And Those Who Think His Work is Bad, i Want To See You Do Something So Much Better.. Let Me Know When Your Movie Come Out So i Can Compare. And See if You Had Any Right To bad Mouth His Work.