By Paul Hansen

For Colored Girls is based on Ntozake Shange’s award winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.   The film is a portrayal of destructive romantic relationships among African Americans.   Women and men of all ethnicities will probably recognize the patterns of unhappy interactions presented

Much of For Colored Girls takes place in a lower class apartment building presided over by Phylicia Rashad. The film follows eight or nine ladies through various relationships.    The movie is deeply attuned to the things that can go wrong between a man and a woman, or parent and child.  Disloyalty, deception,  drug/alcohol/ partner/child abuse,  excessive promiscuity,    date rape, and botched abortions are all presented.  Almost like an encyclopedia, the film seems determined to cover almost every negative outcome of a romantic affair.   The darkness can become almost overwhelming.

Although the confluence of disastrous relationships is a little improbable (hopefully), it is apparent that the film is really functioning on a more symbolic level.  At times the characters break out into poetry to further illuminate their plight.   The individual crises are believable and never overdrawn.

The film in general is sensitively directed by Tyler Perry.  The mood of the film might have benefited with a few more comic or at least light episodes to contrast with the generally dark atmosphere.  Humor in contrast with tragedy can make the latter seem all the more unfortunate.

The film has assembled a stellar cast. Phylicia Rashad has an impressive, wise, matriarchal presence. She is a definite stabilizing presence among all the turmoil.  Janet Jackson gives a very convincing portrayal of a hard driven corporate executive who is involved with a man who is not quite what he represents himself to be. Loretta Devine plays Juanita who runs a women’s health clinic.  In a very human sort of way, Juanita is unable to follow some of the wise advice she gives her clients.  Whoopi Goldberg is an excessively judgmental parent who is occasionally abusive.

This is truly an ensemble piece, and there are any number of other performances of which I could comment favorably.   It would have been so easy for the characters and the film to descend into maudlin excess but the performances benefit from precision and restraint.  I left the film hoping that I would see many of the actors and actresses again in another film soon.

For Colored Girls may be a contender for a Best Picture Oscar considering the importance of the subject matter and the intelligence of its treatment. It would be difficult to isolate any one actress in the film for possible Oscar contention since there were so many strong performances.  Janet Jackson had a particularly strong screen presence and Thandie Newton is also memorable as Tangie, a sultry woman who has an unhealthy obsession with sex.

Few of the men in the film are presented favorably.  Some will no doubt fault the film for this.  Although the movie can be seen largely as a feminist piece, For Colored Girls also shows how women can fall into their own traps. For Colored Girls is troubling because so much of it seems to ring true regardless of ethnicity. The complexity of the issues presented are much too great to encapsulate in a single review.

C.S. Lewis said,  “We read to know we are not alone.”   Attending films may serve something of the same function.  After all the trauma, at the end of the movie the women are seen in a collective, supportive huddle.   Anyone who has gone through an unfortunate relationship as depicted in For Colored Girls may find comfort in being assured that they are not alone, and at least symbolically, join in the group hug.