A group of women deal with violence, relationships, family and power in For Colored Girls, a movie based on the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
The play was first performed in the mid-1970s and the movie has a very mid-1970s feel, in its issues, its politics and its approach to womanhood. The story has characters sometimes performing poetry that gives us the emotion behind their brushes with domestic violence, rape, abortion, infertility, infidelity and various things that can be generally grouped as self-esteem issues. You have a high-powered magazine executive (Janet Jackson) with a crummy marriage. There’s a social worker (Kerry Washington), desperate to help a woman (Kimberly Elise) dealing with a drunk and abusive veteran husband (Michael Ealy) and unable to conceive a child with her husband. There’s the bubbly dance teacher (Anika Noni Rose) with a promising student (Tessa Thompson). There’s the nosy neighbor (Phylicia Rashad) keeping an eye on the battered woman and another neighbor (Thandie Newton) who seems a little too free with her affections and has a bad relationship with her mother (Whoopi Goldberg), a religious zealot. And there is the nurse (Loretta Devine) advising women on sexual health but with relationship problems of her own. The stories intertwine and the women occasionally come together to ruminate and discuss.
The women talk of joy and, more often, sorrow, hurt, loss and violation. They struggle to find their own inner power. They speak, more often than not, in soliloquies and rhythm-rich verse. It’s interesting but not engrossing. It keeps you paying attention but it doesn’t draw you in. It is some kind of art but, in the same way that you a concert film isn’t a “movie,” For Colored Girls doesn’t feel like a movie either. It feels more like a poetry reading set at a gallery opening or a spoken-word performance at a jazz concert. It is two kinds of media sharing the stage but not really melding. The performances — particularly from Thompson, Elise, Rashad and Devine — are solid but they are consciously performance-y. It’s like watching a very good reading of, say, a Shakespeare sonnet. Or, really, a series of good readings of interesting poems. You’d applaud after each one but you are never transported to the world of the performer. C
Rated R for some disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content and language. Written and directed by Tyler Perry (based on the play by Ntozake Shange), For Colored Girls is two hours and 14 minutes long and distributed by Lionsgate.