When it was announced in 2009 that Tyler Perry would be directing Ntozake Shange's womanist masterpiece, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf," Black women, especially the literary types, went nuts. The prevailing thought was that the man who made (and wears "Madea") had no business touching a production that was a turning point for art by and about Black women. The criticism of the film, which no one had seen, was so bad, Tyler chose to reassure skeptics three weeks before the film debuted that he hadn't butchered their beloved Broadway play: This movie is powerful. It is incredible. The performances in it are astonishing, but most of all this film will leave you lifted.
The movie is here. Early reviews from the heavy-hitters aren't pretty. Variety called it "more inauthentically melodramatic than ever... Perry has unmistakably wrestled 'Girls' into the same soap-opera mold of his earlier pics, connecting the passionate testimonials with cliched characterizations and two-bit psychoanalysis." The Hollywood Reporter was even less kind. The writer's bottom line: "Tyler Perry utterly butchers Ntozake Shange's theatrical tone poem to Black female identity." I want to say these critics are all wrong. But they're not. And yet, they are. Allow me to explain: There are some totally hokey moments in the film. The characters are introduced in this jumbled way where one exists; then another one pops into her scene -- literally -- and then the camera goes off to follow that new character. And while all of the actresses give top-notch performances, especially when they're reciting Shange's work, most of them don't ever approach three-dimensionality. Kimberly Elise suffers through the entire movie. Phylicia Rashad just stays nosy (a waste of her skills, a waste). Whoopi Goldberg stays thumping that Bible. There's no arc, no character development -- just a type of woman. Loretta Devine and Janet Jackson get an arc of sorts, both of which you can see coming a clichd mile away, but Devine's acting skills pull it off. Janet? Not so much. She's a competent actress, but surrounded by dramatic heavyweights, she doesn't quite cut it. For every so-so or melodramatic scene, there's one that has the power to move you. And I wish critics, and Perry too as the director, had focused on those more. Kimberly Elise may be one-dimensional and all-suffering, but she's one of the greatest suffering actresses the screen has ever seen. Thandie Newton was directed to overact, but there's humor, unintentional or not, in her crass behavior. Michael Ealy is phenomenal as a bad guy. You will hate him more than you hated Danny Glover in "The Color Purple." Macy Gray will make you wonder why she's a cameo instead of a lead. Loretta Devine is ultimately endearing because every woman's been that woman. And Anika Noni Rose will move you to tears (I want to tell you why, but I don't want to ruin the storyline for you. But wow-ee, wow, wow. Can that girl act!). I had to stop myself from walking out of the theatre because her performance touched me so deeply. Perry's offering isn't perfect, but it was a good enough that I had an ecstatic Twitter fit after the screening. The film is 80 percent solid and 20 percent in need of significant improvement. Sometimes that's the most you can expect from a relationship, including the one you have with Tyler Perry's films. Demetria L. Lucas is ESSENCE's Relationships Editor and the author of the upcoming dating advice guide, A Belle in Brooklyn: Advice for Living Your Single Life & Enjoying Mr. Right Now (Atria, June 2011). Follow her on Twitter at @ABelleinBK.