If we are to determine a film’s Oscar potential based on its reviews, which we are wont to do quite often in the Awards game, it might be safe to say that Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls will not be getting a Best Picture nomination. The highly anticipated film was screened last night for the critics at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and the initial response seems to be mediocre at best, with neither critic finding much to praise about Perry’s effort.
Peter Debruge of Variety was the kinder of the two critics calling the film an ambitious step forward for Perry, but simultaneously a completely misguided effort. He compares the film version to the 1975 play by Ntozake Shange and says that Perry completely misses the point:
In Shange’s original 1975 show, seven African-American dancers, each dressed in a different color and identified not by name but by their place in the spectrum, alternate time in the spotlight, while serving as a form of support network for the others. Each represents specific individual challenges facing black women, even as the group presents the community’s collective experience. But if the intention, as suggested by Shange’s original title (“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”), was to offer universal, easily identifiable experiences, then Perry’s handling has regrettably diluted the effect into a series of interconnected stock stories.
No, it never was going to be easy, but someone needed to put creative sweat into this one, to reach for cinematic solutions to the theatrical challenge. All Perry does is force conventional plots and characters — utter cliches without lives or souls — into the fabric of Shange’s literary work. The hackneyed melodramas get him from one poem to the next but run roughshod over the collective sense of who these women are.
Then, when Perry arrives at the next poetic passage, the switch in writing between him and Shange is jarringly pronounced. The words belong to different worlds.
As far as the acting goes, both reviewers believe there is something there. The overcrowded ensemble of talented actresses has their moments, but overall their performances are diminished by Perry’s misguided direction. Honeycutt had the best words to say about the actresses and he singles out several of the standouts:
When reciting Shange’s words, the actresses often achieve moments of splendor. Some even achieve dignity within the hoary melodrama. This is especially true of Rashad, who acts as a kind of Greek chorus; Elise, whose character must cope with unspeakable tragedy; and Rose, who must search for an outlet for her rage and humiliation.
However, DeBruge blames Perry for none of the actresses achieving their true potential in a film that highly restricted their abilities:
There’s some great acting being done here (including a chilling cameo from Macy Gray as a back-alley abortionist), but the cameras aren’t where they need to be to capture it, and the editing isn’t properly calibrated to shape what the performers are dishing out.