Sunday, January 09, 2011

Anika Noni Rose in For Colored Girls

This post is especially for Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown - The Class of 2010, which reaches its 5th year of existence and long may it continue.

While watching Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” (Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough) it’s impossible not to marvel at the film’s excellent assemblage of actresses. Whether it’s the legendary attitude of Whoopi Goldberg, the showy tendencies of Thandie Newton, the stern wisdom of Phylicia Rashad, the continually undervalued talent of Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington and Kimberley Elise, or the welcome contribution of relative newcomers Tessa Thompson and Macy Gray, everybody has a hand in carrying the novel’s wrenching emotion into a powerful cinematic experience.

The main difficulty for “For Colored Girls” is that it’s so issue-driven — with seven definitive characters that all interlink in some way — that it often translates as extremely contrived. Although the women themselves feel like realistic representations of the African-American female, the shifting focus of the film offers little time to build a sense of who they are beyond victims. They’re burdened by issues of rape, abuse, jealousy, pregnancy, infertility, but I don’t think Perry does enough to allude to how the women have got to this position, and the production takes on a bit of a Serial Drama structure. That being said, the acting is certainly the biggest success of the film, and one can imagine this turning out disastrously were the seven principal figures not so eminently watchable on-screen.

I have decided to focus on the performance which most affected me, and which sidesteps the constraints of heavy-handed plot elements with enviable ease:

*Warning: There are plot spoilers*

Anika Noni Rose is Yasmine (aka Yellow), a cool lady who teaches one of the film’s other “Colored girls” to dance, at an uptown college. She immediately strikes you as one of these people with an easy-going outlook on life, not especially well-off but by no means poor. As she helps Nyla (aka Purple) deal with her own problems she gives the impression that she recognises herself at that age, passionate and rash, and the way that she deals with Nyla reinforces the sense that she’s giving something back to an art that fostered her creative freedom. Yasmine feels completely content to live as she is, prioritising personal happiness over accumulative gain, missing love in her life for sure, but otherwise together, and proud that she has managed to acquit herself in a vocation that she loves.

We meet Yasmine’s suitor Bill as he chases after her one afternoon like a lost puppy, charming and cheeky, plying her with attention as they discuss the possibility of a date. Yasmine feels reluctant at first, and, even though she is a very attractive woman, reveals a possible lack of experience with the dating game, and a hint of bashful self-consciousness. This scene played back might reveal an innate, instinctive tentativeness in Yasmine towards Bill, and he certainly tries too hard to woo her. One often judges a concerted effort as a form of flattery more than an act of desperation or deceit, and in any case, when he invites her to cook him dinner Rose’s coy, confident smile indicates that Yasmine knows that she can make this another one of her success stories.

In the vein of “For Colored Girls” it’s somewhat inevitable to disclose that this date does not end in success, and in the second most harrowing sequence of the film (the first is not even open to debate) Yasmine finds herself in as drastic a predicament as a woman can endure. When the camera zones in on her during this sequence Rose displays such a distraught sense of resignation, and a painful dose of self-deprecating anger at not getting this one right: she should have listened to her instincts. And it carries through to the aftermath of the event, since she's predictably noble enough to report the offence to police officers but guiltily bitter towards her assailant. As Yasmine is required to identify the man’s body later in the film Rose nails a huge confluence of emotion; her unleashing of anger at not being able to confront him on a level footing, and a faint sense of pride at justice winning out. Her attack towards him reads as a natural reaction yet somewhat fearful, as if she is wary of letting her darker emotions take over.

While you’re certain that the film’s “yellow” heroine has never seen darker days, Rose gauges Yasmine’s arc immaculately, and not so drastic as to suggest that she won’t recover. In fact, one imagines that she’ll take this event relatively on-the-chin as she does with every other element of life (she shouldn’t have to, but she will) and put on as brave a face as she always has. Rose makes Yasmine the most genuine character in “For Colored Girls” despite its clamouring sense of finality towards her strand of the narrative. Yellow is the perfect colour for this woman; reliable, resilient and good-natured, sensitive, fragile and resonant. Rose resonates more than any other single element of the film, and provides one of the most valuable and finest performances of the year.


Alex in Movieland said...

I'm so happy you wrote about her. It was one of my options definitely, as I myself thought she gave the best performance of the film.

she definitely nails it with the big monologue, regardless of the confusing writing.

it's an interesting cast for sure, from the best (Anika, Kimberly, Loretta) to the worst (Thandie and especially Whoopi)

Candice Frederick said...

anika noni rose was fantabulous in this it's important to not marvel on the laziness of the adptation, but these female actresses were some of the best fo the year. anika ruled in this movie. as did kimberly elise to me.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Great write-up on a lovely performance. Thandie probably gets best-in-show honours for me (sorry Alex) but Anika still thrills. One of her biggest I think is the musicality in her voice, which works so well for her in - and out - of the monologue. She just exudes the charm and warmth necessary for the character and it's harrowing watching her transformation.

I really hope that she gets more roles, I think she's fantastic.

Nathanael Hood said...


Tyler Perry should just stop directing.

He should move to strictly producing from now on.

"Precious" was a masterpiece.

Cal said...

I take it that you didn't like FCG then Nathanael. It has problems, but I wasn't especially keen on "Precious" either.

Nathanael Hood said...

I loved "Precious"!!!!

Explain yourself, good sir!

Alex in Movieland said...

I have to step in :)

Precious = my favorite 2009 film.

For Colored Girls = D+, if I'm feeling generous.
and when you think the film had so much potential (!!!) - just look at that cast, and how everything got destroyed by a bad screenplay that was not developed properly from an otherwise good story.

Cal said...

I've only read parts of the story, but I think it's kind of successful at bringing the women together. Better edited than "Precious" maybe?

I was mainly annoyed with Daniels and the handling of the Monique character, even though Sidibe is great and it's definitely a more focused picture than FCG.