Archive for October, 2010

For Colored Girls – A Review

October 25, 2010

Thanks to my Twitter pal @madijack, I was able last week to attend a screening of Tyler Perry’s film version of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

The good news?  The movie is better than early reviews in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety make it out to be.  The bad news?  It is not nearly as good as it could have been.  Those who love the source material will find plenty to hate in Perry’s version.  Nevertheless, there are some good moments that hint at Perry’s growth as a filmmaker and that, frustratingly, offer a glimpse of what might have been in the hands of a more talented director.

Adapting “For Colored Girls” for film would be a daunting task for anyone.  The seven “ladies,” identified by color in the play, are now separate characters.  The stories that Perry has created for each of them is intended to bring out some aspect of the universal experiences and themes that are the heart of the play. 

Unfortunately, this is where the movie stumbles out of the starting gate.  The characters Perry creates are Tyler Perry movie characters.  They are not living, breathing, human beings.  They are archetypes.  

So we have Thandie Newton as an over the top floozy in a bad wig.  Janet Jackson, channeling Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, plays a magazine editor who is so one-dimensional that Jackson’s limited acting range never gets tested.  Kimberly Elise is yet another sad, beaten-down-by-life woman, the same character she played in Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, except she never gets mad. 

Loretta Devine plays Madea – um, I mean, a nurse and relationship counselor who fails to take her own advice.  Phylicia Rashad is a female version of Ossie Davis’ character in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.  Anika Noni Rose plays a free-spirited dancer whose spirit gets crushed. 

The cast is rounded out by Kerry Washington and Hill Harper, who are there to be pretty and, despite having zero chemistry, to represent Black Love.  Washington, a child social worker who can’t conceive a baby, puts her full lips to good use and spends her time on screen frowning and pouting.  Hill Harper is the standard Tyler Perry GOOD BLACK MAN who SUPPORTS HIS WOMAN NO MATTER WHAT.  His role consists of not being any of the other men in the movie.  Sigh.

Some of the character choices – such as Whoopi Goldberg as a religious fanatic, and Macy Gray as a back alley abortionist – are truly bizarre.  Perry also added a closeted, “down-low” character to the plot, although there was no such person in Shange’s original.  The addition is unnecessary and offensive.

The dialogue is typical Tyler Perry dialogue, delivered with plenty of head-shaking and eye-rolling, coupled with some of the most famous poems from the original play.  It is quite jarring to hear Shange’s words juxtaposed with Tyler Perry’s direction and dialogue.  I can imagine an audience unfamiliar with the source thinking “WTF?” when an actress suddenly starts speaking in poetry.

Subtlety is not Perry’s strong suit, and most of these stories are told with a sledgehammer.  Perry plays it big and loud – the big laugh, the big shock – when smaller and quieter and softer would have been more effective.  Yet there are some moments of fine acting, particularly from Rashad and Rose.  One wishes for more of them.  The fact that those  moments exist at all is a testament to Perry’s development as a writer and director.

Perry sets most of the action in a single Harlem apartment building.  This, too, is more stereotype than real.  I once looked at an apartment in the building used for the exterior shots.  It is on a block of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. that is now quite gentrified.  The actual apartments in the building are filled with light; they are airy and spacious.  The clean, well-maintained exterior does not match the dark and rundown-looking set used for the building’s interior scenes.  As a long-time Harlem resident, I was annoyed that Perry chose to resort to stereotypes of Harlem instead of showing the vibrancy and diversity of the neighborhood as it currently exists.

In sum, I expected a train wreck, and did not see one.  I guess it helps to see a Tyler Perry film with low expectations.  The film is not bad.  But it also isn’t good. 

Perry’s movie did make me nostalgic for Shange’s choreopoem.  I pulled out my yellowed, dog-eared copy from college and re-read it as soon as I got home from the screening.  I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls.  But what I want most of all is to see “For Colored Girls” back on Broadway, directed by someone who truly understands Shange’s original and can bring it to life for a new generation of girls of all colors.

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Cowardly Lions

October 9, 2010

I had the pleasure of unexpectedly running into an ex — and not just any ex, THE ex, The One Who Got Away — this week.  I say “pleasure,” because I couldn’t have scripted it any better. 

The last time I saw him — which was the first time I’d seen him since our romance ended over a decade ago — I was in his city on business.  I was a good 30 pounds heavier than I am now.  I was wearing a dress I decided I hated about three seconds before I saw him. 

We met for dinner.  It was purely platonic, but I was nervous and awkward.  I lost a contact lens and dropped my cell phone in the toilet.  I was still attracted to him, and hated myself for that.  It took me weeks to recover.

Now, two years later, I was wearing a cute sweater dress, tightly belted to show off my newly svelte figure.  My hair and makeup were well done.  I was on my own turf — at a program in New York City, surrounded by women I know, admire and respect.  He was the interloper — not quite an intruder, but he was definitely out of his element.

He said what you want the ex to say in these circumstances: “You look great!”  I learned this past week that “you look great” is guy code for “Damn, you lost a lot of weight!” 

I gave him a warm hug.  The room was packed and seating was limited, so I invited him to take the open seat next to me.  He did, and spent an hour flipping through the program book instead of talking.  From time to time, I would look over at him and catch him staring at me.

He acted nervous.  He seemed unsure of himself.  He spoke of us getting together to catch up, but then kept retreating from the idea.  Repeatedly.  At the first break, he left the program.  He avoided talking to me at the cocktail reception that followed.  The next morning, he sent me an email saying that he was flying back early and would miss the rest of the program.  “You look great,” he said again in the email.

Whatever.

It has annoyed me for years that The One Who Got Away and I never were able to become, if not friends, then at least business acquaintances.  We know many of the same people and travel in the same circles. 

Whenever I see him — and this is only the second time I’ve seen him in the years since our brief, white-hot romance combusted — it’s clear we’re both still physically attracted to each other.  He’s also married and unavailable.  Our long-ago relationship ended when I found out he was engaged, a small detail he had failed to mention over the weeks we were together.  I wasn’t interested in being the side chick then, and I’m not interested now.  We don’t have to put ourselves in circumstances where something stupid might happen, but we should — I think — be able to be cordial and professional with each other.

He hasn’t bridged that gap yet.

The cowardice he displayed in not being able to deal with me as a professional, diminished him substantially in my eyes.  He’s even shorter than I remembered.  In my mind’s eye, I’ve always seen him as tall.  This time, I was wearing boots with five-inch platform heels, and we stood almost eye-to-eye. 

When we were together, he was always cool, unflappable.  This time, he was flapping all over the place.  Maybe he’d never seen me operating in my element before.  Maybe he’d never seen me display the level of power, confidence and self-assuredness he saw that day. 

Whatever it was, the words “his loss” never rang truer.

We’ll cross paths again.  It’s almost inevitable, given what I’ve said about our common professional and personal connections.  Hopefully, as we get more accustomed to seeing each other, the awkwardness will fade and we can both be cool.  If not, though, I still get to enjoy the memory of having that picture perfect fantasy “running into the ex” experience.

October Blues

October 6, 2010

Tomb stones in a graveyard

October is the cruelest month.

This month, I have been on edge, worried, hypersensitive, easily distracted, unfocused, lethargic, unhappy, and depressed.

And we’re only 6 days in.

I could attribute it to a lot of things.  I am generally aware of the contributing factors, including a situation that has occupied too much of my head space as of late.

But the overarching problem is October itself.

October used to be a month of celebrations. My sister’s birthday, my father’s birthday, and then Halloween.

My sister’s birthday is still acknowledged, if not celebrated.  The kids and I do Halloween big every year.  But ever since my father died 18 years ago, his death overshadows the good in October.

October is a month of highs and lows for me.  The highs are stratospheric.  The lows?  Very low.  Today was a low day.  It will get better.  It may even get worse.

But when I looked at my calendar and remembered Octobers past, I understood.

Once, when I was still a young associate at my old firm, I found myself crying at my desk for no apparent reason.  I don’t mean weeping.  I’m talking about full-out sobbing, the kind of crying one can hear through closed doors.  The kind of crying one never wants to do at work because it leads to whispered rumors and speculation.

I had no idea what was going on.  Then saw that the date was the date of my father’s passing.

I got up and went home.

So far this October, I haven’t treated myself to a good, cleansing cry.  I need to. 

Especially because I’ve decided it’s time to let go of distractions so I can refocus on my writing.  And not to sound flippant or uncaring, but at this stage, Daddy’s death is another distraction.

That said, I’ve also learned the importance of allowing myself to feel what I’m feeling.  I no longer try to tell myself how I’m supposed to feel about anything.

Whatever I feel, it’s what I feel, and what I’m supposed to feel.  And I allow myself to feel that way, until I don’t anymore.

It passes.  Good feelings pass.  Bad feelings pass.  Best not to get attached to either.

So October has come, and it will go.  I will feel badly at times this month, and I will feel good at other times. 

Such is life.

High School

October 3, 2010

Students sitting in auditorium at a graduation ceremony

I took my daughter to the Citywide High School Fair at Brooklyn Technical High School today.

For me, it was a stark reminder that my baby girl is no longer a baby.

Having grown up in Detroit, I am largely ignorant of the high school admissions process in New York City. Based on today’s fair, though, the high school admission process resembles the pre-school/kindergarten admissions process, complete with testing: the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which is required for admission to the City’s elite public high schools.

My daughter is currently taking an SHSAT prep course, and she is way more knowledgeable about all of this than I am.  I watched with pride as she navigated the fair like a networking pro, chatting up students and faculty from her top choice schools — Bronx High School of Science, American Studies, Brooklyn Tech and Beacon.  She has a take-charge personality, and she thrives in these types of environments.

I’ve told my daughter that the school choice decision is hers to make, as long as she keeps an open mind.  I don’t want her to have to resort to deception to wind up where she wants to go, as I did when I was entering high school.

When I was her age in Detroit, there were only two elite, special admission high schools: Cass Technical High School, and Renaissance High School.  The Catholic school system had its own high school testing and admissions process.

Having sent me to Catholic school for 8th grade, even though we weren’t Catholic, my mother wanted me to go to a Catholic high school.  Spending 8th grade in Catholic school was enough for me.  I wanted to go to Cass Tech, where all of my brothers and one of my two sisters had gone.

I wound up taking both tests. 

I got into Cass Tech, but my mother made it clear that if I also got into the Catholic school she wanted to send me to, then that’s where I was going.  So it was luck, or serendipity, that I happened to answer the phone call informing me that I was admitted to her (not mine) top choice Catholic high school.

I didn’t tell my mother about that phone call until just before my graduation from Cass Tech.

High school is a big milestone marker, both for my daughter in her life, and for me, as a parent, in mine.  I am confident she will choose wisely.