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Vol. LXIV, No. 44
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

(Photo by Quantrell Colbert)

HOW CAN I TELL THIS TO MY HUSBAND?: Kelly (Kerry Washington, left) consults with Beau Willie (Michael Ealy) about the best way to tell her police officer husband Donald (Hill Harper, not shown) that they cannot have children.

For Colored Girls: Black Feminist Classic Refreshed Thanks to Tyler Perry

Kam Williams

Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf made a big splash when it debuted on Broadway in the seventies. The “choreopoem” was essentially a series of soul-baring monologues plumbing the depths of the African-American female psyche on sensitive subjects that ranged from sexuality to spirituality. Performed by a cast of seven troubled women, this hybrid of drama and poetry received critical acclaim and particularly resonated with black women.

Ms. Shange subsequently wrote the screenplay for a made-for-TV version of her opus which aired on PBS’s American Playhouse in 1982. And she also appeared in the movie version opposite Alfre Woodard, Sophie Okenedo, and Lynn Whitfield.

The challenge of readapting her acclaimed production to the big screen was taken on by Tyler Perry, who proves himself up to the task. He began by abbreviating the original’s cumbersome name, which makes sense, since the original had been conceived during an era when wordy was fashionable not only in terms of movie titles such as Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb but also in advertising slogans — “Vicks’ Nyquil: The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine.”

Perry next fleshed out the lead roles, while adding a number of support characters to the ensemble and updating some themes (such as AIDS and closeted gays) which are part of today’s cultural sensibilities. To his credit, he has preserved the source material’s tone.

Loyal Tyler Perry fans will appreciate how the enhanced plotline emulates his popular morality plays and includes his trademark touches of humor. The stellar cast assembled to execute his vision includes Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Macy Gray, Anika Noni Rose, and Whoopi Goldberg.

The story is set in a seedy, Harlem tenement inhabited by several of the protagonists. Each, we learn, is enmeshed in some sort of family dysfunction, such as promiscuous bartender Tangie (Newton) who brings home a different boyfriend every night: her pregnant teenage sister (Tessa Thompson), who is in urgent need of an abortion; and their clueless mother (Goldberg), a hoarder caught in the clutches a religious cult. Just across the hall lives the apartment building’s manager (Rashad) whose self-assured manner might be a mask.

On the floor below, we find Crystal (Elise), who is being battered by the unemployed alcoholic boyfriend (Michael Ealy) she refuses to marry yet can’t summon up the gumption to dump. Then there’s Juanita (Devine), a free clinic nurse who counsels others about relationships, but remains in denial about the abysmal state of her own. Naïve dance instructor Yasmine (Rose) comes to regret accepting a date from a flirtatious stranger (Khalil Kain) whom she meets on the street.

No less troubled are Kelly (Washington), a social worker worried about how her police officer husband (Hill Harper) will react to the news that she can’t conceive. And lastly, there’s Jo (Jackson), a famous fashion magazine editor, whose closeted gay beau (Omari Hardwick), has been using her as a cover for his lifestyle.

Eventually, all of the assorted melodramas merge and resolve themselves satisfactorily which leads to a preachy denouement during which each heroine take turns expressing her resolve to rise above her overwhelming personal challenges. The movie is a fresh interpretation of For Colored Girls which puts to rest the question of whether the original black feminist classic was too dated to be adapted to the screen.

Excellent (3½ stars), Rated R for sexuality, profanity, and disturbing violence. Running time: 120 minutes. Studio: Lionsgate Films.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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