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'For Colored Girls': bad as a sitcom, bad as cinema

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For Colored Girls

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Hollywood's go-to African American director of the moment, Tyler Perry, brings his own brand of shallow pathos and mediocrity to the screen in 2010's For Colored Girls (adapted from the play "For Colored Girls..." by Ntozake Shange). The film focuses on a ensemble of disparate African American women in present-day NYC as they go about their lives, fighting men, fighting each other, and attempting to find peace in what is (in the film) a brutal world full of down-low men, disease, and domestic violence. The play from which the film is adapted is actually a string of female monologues strung together whose power comes from their poetry, lyricism, and opportunity they afford the actresses playing them to soar. The film choses to use Shange's text but attempts to fit its poet rhythms into larger, dialogue-heavy script (penned by the director, of course) which is (like much of Perry's output) largely free of musicality or anything resembling inspired dialogue: the result of this "mash-up" of one writer's voice with another is a film which plays like a bad telefilm and occasionally comes to life when Shange's text is allowed to live through the respective actresses playing it. For a film adapted from what are essentially performed poems, the film contains close to no visual poetry and were it not for the actresses, the whole thing would be a brutal bore. This of course brings one to about the only thing the film has going for it: the incredible actresses. Hollywood does not today nor in the past have many black ensemble films and so it is a joy to see Kimberly Elise and Phylicia Rashad share a scene, even if the direction and dialogue (as penned by Perry) is unworthy of them. Even Janet Jackson gets a chance to show that she's as comfortable on the silver screen as she is in pop music, playing an Anna Wintour-esque character whose frigidity is matched by her severe wardrobe. (She seems to be morphing into Perry's muse, having working with him now three times with varying results.) But all of the powerhouse acting in the world can't help a film which demonizes men, patronizes women, and confuses bad lighting for true film grit. One longs for the world of Almodovar, a director who shows again and again what you can do when you have stellar actresses united under a superb script and inspired direction. While not the worst film presently in cinemas, it is a far, far cry from Lee Daniel's Precious (a film For Colored Girls seems to be channeling) and closer to a bad Lifetime movie.

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