In its original presentation, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuff, Ntozake Shange used a series of poems, told in a bracingly bare spoken word format by women, black women, identified by the colors of the rainbow, who endured the abuses of life, the daily trials and tribulations, the heartbreak and the moments, the briefest glimpses of hope, love and charity usually found in the support of others struggling to survive their own hardships.
The element that works best in For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry’s adaptation, is rooted in the performances. Several of the women who assume the leading roles in this filmed rainbow dazzle us with a dynamic mix of voice and grace and grit.
Loretta Devine blazes a trail here that would earn distinction of the highest order if not for the fact that she rarely gets this kind of artistic showcase as a black actress not usually seen as a beauty in Hollywood. As Juanita, the lady in green, who runs a neighborhood clinic for women seeking to overcome various cycles of abuse in their relationships, while dealing with her own failings and insecurities, Devine flips from righteous sensuality to crippling self-doubt and back without missing or misplaying any of the emotional beats. Right behind her, Anika Noni Rose (Yellow), Kimberly Elise (Brown) and newcomer Tessa Thompson (Purple) fiercely defend the line with truth beyond the words.
Unfortunately, they and the rest of the cast are let down by Perry and his inability to frame things in any way outside his rudimentary narrative boxes. The stories of the women, while updated a bit for a more contemporary feel, are too literally translated, too on the nose, which cages these beautiful magical performers, these birds who need to fly as well as sing. Grade: D-plus
Opens Nov. 5. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.