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For Colored Girls DVD Review

For Colored Girls (2010) movie poster For Colored Girls

Theatrical Release: November 5, 2010 / Running Time: 134 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Tyler Perry / Writers: Ntozake Shange (stage play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf), Tyler Perry (screenplay)

Cast: Kimberly Elise (Crystal Wallace/Brown), Janet Jackson (Joanna Bradmore/Red), Loretta Devine (Juanita Sims/Green), Thandie Newton (Tangie Adrose/Orange), Anika Noni Rose (Yasmine/Yellow), Kerry Washington (Kelly Watkins/Blue), Tessa Thompson (Nyla Adrose/Purple), Phylicia Rashad (Gilda), Whoopi Goldberg (Alice Adrose/White), Macy Gray (Rose), Michael Ealy (Beau Willie Brown), Omari Hardwick (Carl Bradmore), Richard Lawson (Frank), Hill Harper (Donald Watkins), Khalil Kain (Bill), Rayna Tharani (Renee), Jaycee Williams (Kenya), Thomas "Deuce" Jessup (Kwame), May Zayan (Katina)

Buy For Colored Girls from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • Video on Demand


Tyler Perry has a good thing going for himself. Serving an audience Hollywood otherwise neglects, Perry has become one of the industry's most reliable draws with his unique mix of in-drag comedy and domestic drama.
Two signature movies released each year pull in anywhere from $80 million to $150 million, plus there are the steady revenue streams of his eponymous TBS sitcoms. With the power that has come from this strongly-branded work, Perry chose to shake things up by making a movie based on something that wasn't his to begin with.

All of the accolades poured on Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, a movie to which Perry lent his name and endorsement but little else, seem to have inspired the filmmaker to get personally involved in something widely deemed valuable. For Colored Girls adapts For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, the Obie-winning 1975 play by Ntozake Shange. This R-rated heavy drama deals with many of the same issues as Precious: teen pregnancy, HIV affliction, poverty, child abuse, and rape. At least this one spreads those calamities out among its ensemble cast of African American women and their families.

Dance instructor Yasmine/Yellow (Anika Noni Rose) checks on her star pupil Nyla (Tessa Thompson) who has stepped outside for meaningful morning sickness. The loose Tangie (Thandie Newton) is not pleased by what her fanatical mother has to say about her.

The film opens at a grimy apartment building in an unspecified, unsightly part of New York City. By law, a social worker (Kerry Washington) is required to check in on the welfare of two kids who have been repeatedly treated for bruises at the hospital. Making the necessary climb up five flights of stairs, the worker finds the mother, Crystal (Kimberly Elise), quietly troubled, her kids in fine spirits, and, the kids' father, Crystal's unemployed veteran boyfriend (Michael Ealy), a true source of concern. The family's next-door neighbor and the building's manager (Phylicia Rashad, of "The Cosby Show") hears the drama through the thin walls and hopes for state intervention.

It's not the only drama going on inside the building. A nurse (Loretta Devine) shows up looking for her husband, from whom she has come to expect move-outs and returns. She also turns up at Crystal's workplace, where she waits at length to see her high-strung boss, Joanna (Janet Jackson), the wealthy editor of fashion magazine Robe Rouge. The reason for the meeting is insignificant, but Joanna has her own comparable man problems: her husband (Omari Hardwick) is on the "down-low" and his secret interest in his fellow men is beginning to have consequences.

Of greater interest to the film is the strained dynamic of nymphomaniac Tangie (Thandie Newton), her preferred younger sister Nyla (Tessa Thompson), and their cultist mother (Whoopi Goldberg). Tangie's endless string of one-night stands is another one of the head-turning topics of the walkup's top floor, but it's Nyla's lapse in judgment that has repercussions for the college-bound dancer. Meanwhile, Nyla's instructor, the cheerful Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose), lets down her guard to give romance a try with Bill (Khalil Kain), to traumatizing results.

Janet Jackson gets her chance to be poetic and hysterical, as Jo confronts her husband about his proclivities. Phylicia Rashad plays Gilda, the sage and supportive apartment building manager.

For Colored Girls is fairly dexterous at weaving all these stories together and connecting these characters. While the size of its principal cast does test your memory and comprehension at points, most viewers should be able to sort out who's who, who's with who, and what everyone is up to, with minimal trouble. Perry proves himself comfortable working with someone else's characters and ideas. Avoiding comedy altogether and certainly anything close to his repertoire of broad bickering and linebacker-sized grannies, Perry takes the drama very seriously.
And how could he not, when the lightest thing found here is a female bartender who pounces on men? Some may be more entertained by the subtle ways with which the film conveys Jo's husband's not-so-repressed homosexuality: checking out male backsides and secretly loving the opera.

Addressing issues familiar to the upper middle class black characters of Perry's signature creations in a more morose fashion than he is used to, the material is a mixed bag. Some of the threads feel unnecessary or unresolved, while the Tangie-Nyla-Mother triangle that seems to claim the most attention and screentime fares a bit better. The apartment building assumes the significance of a character as it must have on stage. And there is always something appealing about a universe where equal paths cross and intersect. Nevertheless, the film falls flat on what is designed to be its heart (and was the bulk of the play before it): poetic monologues and soliloquies delivered in maintained close-ups as mucous builds and single teardrops descend. The main flourish in a movie avoiding them, rather than injecting artistry, these moments add unwelcome pretension and bring the film to a screeching halt.

For a project hailing from the stage and touting eight names on its poster and cover, you'd expect For Colored Girls to be more of an actress showcase. While none of the leading ladies holds back the picture (top-billed Jackson comes closest, with her unconvincing effort to channel The Devil Wears Prada), few really stand out as commanding the screen. England's Newton supplies the most depth and transformation, while Rose succeeds most at conveying pain and eliciting sympathy (it might help that her tragedy is the most graphically depicted and believable).

How can viewers claim the movie bashes men when Beau Willie Brown (Michael Ealy) presents a model father and partner? Oh, wait... Free clinic nurse Juanita Sims (Loretta Devine) has an interesting relationship with her oft-stray partner Frank (Richard Lawson).

Assuming Precious' first November weekend release date, For Colored Girls was intended to garner similar critical praise and award season attention. This did not happen. The reviews were harsh and nearly as unfavorable as those lobbed at Perry's typical films. The movie has not received a single major honor, although, outside of a Kids' Choice and a couple of MTV Movie nominations, the director's past recognition is limited to "black" awards.

Perry at least could count on his appeal with the moviegoing public, right? Wrong. Despite opening with a theater count in line with his signature dramedies and twice as high as Precious' peak (whose budget was less than half of this film's $21 M), For Colored Girls became Perry's third lowest performer to date, only passing Daddy's Little Girls and (just barely) The Family That Preys Together with $37.7 million domestically (and, as usual for the director, almost nothing overseas). Retrospectively, you can make sense of the underperformance by recognizing that although the title could refer to Perry's primary audience, the content was not the inspirational family-friendlyish fare of his churchgoer-attracting Madea pictures. Perry should rebound commercially with the Good Friday opening of his next signature crowdpleasing stage-to-screen translation, Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family.

In the meantime, those preferring to experience For Colored Girls in the comfort and privacy of their homes can now do so, thanks to last week's DVD and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo from Lionsgate. We look at the former here.

For Colored Girls DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo ($39.99 SRP)
and On Demand

VIDEO and AUDIO

The picture is darker and has higher contrast than Tyler Perry's other movies, but the presentation retains the director's usual 1.85:1 aspect ratio (1.78:1 on Lionsgate's DVD) and modest visual imagination. The clean, crisp, sharp, and vibrant video leaves nothing to be desired. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also performs as it should, providing plenty of atmosphere and ensuring that the main course of dialogue is always natural and intelligible.

Playwright Ntozake Shange discusses the genesis of her poetry in "Span of the Rainbow." Actress Tessa Thompson reads an excerpt from Shange's original "No More Love Poems #2" as part of the Prism of Poems. Costume designer Johnetta Boone weighs in on dressing the characters by color in "Transformation: Movie Magic."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Bonus features begin with "Span of the Rainbow", a comprehensive overview of For Colored Girls' journey from stage to screen. It consists of 18 short topical "pods", which can be watched individually, in three thematically-arranged color playlists, or in one entire lot (by which it runs 38 minutes and 36 seconds plus title transitions). The shorts are largely comprised of interview video with the likes of playwright Ntozake Shange, those associated with different incarnations of her play, African American studies professors, and Tyler Perry and his film cast.
There are also some auto-navigated text passages and audio from a phone interview with Shange's sister. The focus remains on Shange's original work, its design, and reception, with brief notice paid to a 1982 TV movie shot for the PBS anthology series "American Playhouse" and to Perry's filming. As such, this sheds much light on the film's origins and should appease those peeved by Perry's adaptation of it.

There are two parts to the "Prism of Poems." The more remarkable one has actors and crew members from the stage play, the 1982 TV movie, and the featured film reading or reciting an excerpt from Ntozake Shange's original choreopoem. Stage/TV director Oz Scott reads "Dark Phrases" (0:54), TV actress Sarita Allen does "Sechita #1" (1:47), Tessa Thompson takes "No More Love Poems #2" (2:01), the play's Lady in Yellow Aku Kadogo performs "I'm a Poet Who" (1:14), as does Anika Noni Rose (1:12), and the TV version's choreographer Dianne McIntyre concludes with "Sechita #2" (1:10). The other feature from this section simply takes you directly to 23 poems as they appear in the film. Both sections are arranged by the colors assigned to each character.

"Transformation: Movie Magic - Making For Colored Girls" (14:54) offers a routine making-of featurette on the film. It informs about the atypical adaptation process, enforcing the characters' assigned colors with wardrobe, filming in New York itself and Atlanta recreations of the city, and the opera sequence, with plenty of cast and crew comments.

The music videos don't provide footage not in the film, but they do stylize it, like this opening montage's use of the poster's butterfly outline. Whoopi Goldberg's religious fanatic matriarch gets her due in Tim Palen's Living Portraits tour. Crystal (Kimberly Elise) and Kelly (Kerry Washington) hold onto their assigned colors (brown and blue, respectively) in the DVD's main menu montage.

"Music For Colored Girls" holds three music videos. "Main Title" (3:49) sets a stylized montage of film clips to the opening poetry and score. "La Donna in Viola" (3:30) animates colored dust and moving rectangles over footage of the opera scene.
"Sechita (A Senhora Em Amarelo)" (1:56) connects other characters' actions to Anika Noni Rose's dancing and poem recital.

As you'd suspect, a Marketing Archive holds For Colored Girls advertising materials. It includes the theatrical trailer (2:27), a three-dimensional tour of haunting, animated, sound-accompanied "living portraits" for eight leading characters, and an art gallery consisting of ten posters.

"Also from Lionsgate" plays the same four promos with which the disc opens, for Tyler Perry movies on Blu-ray, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself, and Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family: The Play.

The animated main menu uses the poster/cover's tinted rectangle design to play single-hued clips while violin score plays.

The cover mildly rearranges the poster's layout, with each colored rectangle on both front and back being holographic on the cardboard slipcover. There are no inserts inside the black Eco-Box keepcase.

Colored girls of the world (or at least New York) unite in their signature colors in the rooftop finale of Tyler Perry's film.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For Colored Girls definitely improves upon what I've seen of Tyler Perry's signature films. It doesn't hit all its marks and some of the storylines it juggles fall flat, but the whole is a little better than the sum of the parts. Many will be turned off by the grim subject matter and those attracted by Perry's involvement might be disappointed to find this darker and more realistic than his upbeat melodramedies. Nevertheless, while it might not be good enough to exalt, it makes a semi-promising first step out of comfort zone for Perry.

Lionsgate's DVD complements a fine feature presentation with a nice collection of bonus features.

Buy DVD from Amazon.com / Buy the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo / Buy the Book

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For Colored Girls Songs List: Laura Izibor - "What More Can They Do", Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - "Longer & Stronger", Mem Nahadr - "I Found God in Myself (Ntozake's Song)", Estelle - "All Day Long (Blue Skies)", Danny Wayne - "Alone in My Room", Zaki Abrahim - "Ansomnia", Miss Eighty6 - "Drive Me Crazy", Gladys Knight - "Settle", Lalah Hathaway - "Sun", Karen Slack, Andrea Jones-Sojola & The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra - "La Donna in Viola", Soul P - "You Know (I'm At It Again)", The Carondelet Percussion Ensemble - "Sechita (A Senhora Em Amarelo)", Macy Gray - "Stand Up", Janelle Monαe - "Without a Fight", Nina Simone, Simone, Laura Izibor & Ledisi - "Four Women", Leona Lewis - "I Know Who I Am"

For Colored Girls: Music From and Inspired by the Original Motion Picture:
Download from iTunes • Download Amazon MP3s • Buy CD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed February 14, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010-11 Lionsgate, Tyler Perry Studios, 34th Street Films, and Very Perry Films. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.