Oscar Moment: “For Colored Girls”

26 10 2010

Tyler Perry has been finding great success making comedies for the past five years, yet with “For Colored Girls,” he tries something totally different.  It’s a project more similar to “Precious” than “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” dark, dramatic, and depressing in tone.  Based on an award-winning play and featuring an ensemble cast of eight headlining African-American women, this seems like a great awards contender on paper.

Yet it won’t be able to follow in the footsteps of “Precious.”  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it back in August, “‘Precious’ entered the race on a wave of festival-acquired respectability; it’s doubtful whether voters would have sought it out without the prior approval of Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. ‘For Colored Girls’ will have no such advantage.”  It will surely get a crowd from Perry’s die-hard fan base that will see anything he makes; however, how many of them will flock to see a drama is fairly suspect.

For a Best Picture play, it needs the critics since it didn’t have the opportunity to garner buzz on the festival circuit.  Knowing the stakes, Perry decided to screen the movie in advance for critics despite a bad experience with pre-screening of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” that convinced him not to show his eight subsequent films.

And apparently, Perry should have stuck with his instincts because “For Colored Girls” is getting trashed out of the gate.  I’ll give you a sample of what the critics are saying.  BEWARE, it’s actually quite humorous.

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter:

“For once, Tyler Perry doesn’t put his name above the title, but perhaps he should with ‘For Colored Girls’ to distinguish this train wreck of a movie from the stunning theater piece of 36 years ago by Ntozake Shange … 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.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety:

“While Perry’s craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach. Just as the director was finding the organic quality that eluded him in ‘Diary’ and other early efforts, he’s confronted with a conceptual piece that calls for an entirely different approach. Yet he can’t resist turning ‘For Colored Girls’ into a Tyler Perry Movie, which means imposing diva worship where nuance is called for and a pleasure-punishing Christian worldview where a certain moral ambiguity might have been more appropriate.”

The last Tyler Perry movie to get an Oscar nomination was — oh wait, none of his movies have ever received an Oscar nomination!  If it comes off as melodramatic to audiences, word of mouth could be toxic and all chances for the movie could be sunk.  There’s only one hope I see for the movie in the big category: the fact that it is the only movie about minorities in the hunt.  The Los Angeles Times made this observation: “For the first time since the 73rd Oscars 10 years ago, there will be no black nominees in any of the acting categories in the February ceremony.”  The same goes for Best Picture which, at the moment, looks to be about as white as bleach.

Sasha Stone of Awards Daily suggests that the movie could take “The Blind Side” slot, but I think it has too narrow appeal and too depressing subject matter to be that movie.  In my mind, the best chance “For Colored Girls” has is in the acting categories.  With so many actresses, there are so many possibilities.  The question, though, is how to pick which one?  Or two?  Unless there is a clear standout, the actresses will cancel each other out.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere quotes an Academy source who says there are three levels of performances offered in the movie: Janet Jackson and Loretta Devine are good; Phylicia Rashad and Thandie Newton are great; Kimberly Elise and Macy Gray are masterful.  Interestingly, the two mentioned as being the best are probably the least well-known of the group.  Apparently Elise came up short in 1998 for a critically acclaimed turn in “Beloved,” so maybe this nomination could be redemption.  Gray, however, has shown up in few movies, but her work here as a back-door abortionist could be shocking and gripping.

Katey Rich of Cinema Blend offers another candidate for consideration, Anika Noni Rose.  She says of Rose, “she has one of the film’s strongest monologues, plays a character who undergoes significant changes over the course of the film, and never oversells it.”  She also brings up the fact that Rose has been solid in other awards movies like “Dreamgirls.”

For me, the only certain thing about “For Colored Girls” is that nothing is certain.  The success (or lack thereof) of the movie itself makes it a risky call for Best Picture, and the fact that no female has emerged as the movie’s dominant force makes it difficult to get much buzz going for Best Supporting Actress.  Even though it’s a weak field and the movie may have a strong showing, one or two women need broad support if the movie hopes to get a nomination.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Rose, Elise)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Gray, Jackson, Newton)


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One response

30 10 2010
rorydean

A well written article, articulate and interesting. I enjoyed that you brought in varying opinions about the movie and offered some thoughts on how it might do in award season – though to be honest I never put a lot of stock into the awards. Too many people win for all the wrong reasons and films are often overlooked that shouldn’t be or receive the statue in spite of others (like Hurt Locker and Avatar, a shambles of a play ground pushing match). I’m just making the rounds from the LAMb and wanted to say hello, enjoyed your work and look forward to more. Of course you’re invited to drop by my site and give me a return shout out.
best->

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