What at first sounds like an awkward fit – artistically ham-handed filmmaker Tyler Perry adapting and directing Ntozake Shange’s self-described “choreopoem” about black women’s identity – becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In his first film that doesn’t sport his name in front of the title, Perry signals his deference to Shange’s canonical work, which was born in the period of unrepentant Seventies feminism, as well as his ambition to expand his creative palette beyond the stereotypical comedies and buppie melodramas that have been his stock in trade until now. Along the road to becoming a film-studio mogul on his own terms, Perry has brushed up his directing skills, though he can still be maddeningly oblivious to such basics as sensible camera placement and organic character development. Still, no one would argue that Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf
presents anything but creative challenges in the transposition of the play’s renowned poetry and dance, which is delivered by characters identified only by colors, into a contemporary narrative drama whose poetry might be heard over the crunch of popcorn. Well, Perry has both succeeded and not. Though he has stepped up his game, Perry’s plainspoken, unsubtle aesthetic is an uncomfortable match for the fragility of Shange’s speeches, and scenes abruptly switch between the language of Perry’s scripted continuity sequences and sudden poetic soliloquies. He has added a couple more characters to Shange’s color palette, though only Elise’s Crystal comes across as a fully fleshed-out character rather than a loose outline of an idea. Still, Newton, Devine, Rose, Washington, and Rashad find the pulse of their characters and are able to convey something of their emotions, even when they lack clarity and backstory. It’s a true ensemble work, which echoes the play’s female support system. Men, however, may feel like they should be taking notes on how not
to treat women. There is a lot of turmoil captured in these vignettes: date rape, infanticide, promiscuity, back-alley abortion, pathologic religiosity, and AIDS, to name but a few. Even though For Colored Girls
had the second weakest opening weekend for any Perry release, his choice to revive and recalibrate Shange’s classic work is a good thing overall.