Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria are all searching for The Real Thing: Love.
Not exactly my type of film, Forrest Whitaker's adaptation of Terry McMillan's novel may appeal to victimized women and fans of the book, but most men will be reaching for the remote as they are continually portrayed as lustful dogs who will say and do anything for a quick, sexual romp. Not to say this isn't true in most cases, we men just don't want to be reminded of it. We always thought it was a secret.
I've always been a fan of actor Forrest Whitaker's work. His recent foray into directing (Hope Floats) shows promise and has returned decent box office numbers, as evidenced by the performances of this film and the Sandra Bullock vehicle. Waiting to Exhale which is based on popular author Terry McMillan's (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) equally successful novel about the lives of four African-American women and the dogs…I mean men in their lives. Set and filmed in the picturesque city of Phoenix, Arizona, Whitaker carefully interweaves all four women's stories simultaneously using voice-overs for each character, which sometimes becomes somewhat monotonous. Using this technique, the film does play like a visual novel as we become considerably involved in some episodes and impassive about others.
In most cases, it's the strength of the actor's portrayal that determines our involvement in the film. For example, Angela Basset's Bernadine is an emotionally broken woman at the film's outset. Her husband has left her and her children for an "evil" white woman stereotype. I was dying to know what this guy did for a living as we see crazy Angela empty out his closet (which is as big as the first floor of my house) and dump his entire wardrobe into his brand new BMW, which she then proceeds to set on fire. Basset displays a range of emotions in this film, and had the film been received well, she probably could have scored a best supporting actress nod. Whitney Houston's Savannah is a television executive (I guess—we do see her in an editing booth) who has recently relocated to the Phoenix area, closer to her friends. She becomes involved with another dog, Kenneth (Dennis Haysbert), who repeatedly jets into town for sex, all the while telling Savannah he will leave his wife, but we as all-knowing viewers discern the truth. Why she can't is a mystery. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I never wanted Whitney Houston to be accepted as a serious actress in Hollywood, in the same way that I wanted Madonna to fail and return to music where she belongs (that Golden Globe fluke seemed peculiarly orchestrated to me). I have nothing against either of these women. I like their music and it's not that they're bad actresses; I just feel that you really have got to have the goods in order to make the crossover, and neither of these two women possesses "the goods." Think about it, have you seen Madonna or Whitney on screen since Evita or Waiting to Exhale? The novelty of having Whitney in this film is that we get to hear her use the F word about 35 times in one scene, hardly worth the price of admission. Loretta Devine portrays Gloria, a stout single mother who's teenage son is on the verge of departing on a year-long trip to Europe which has brought to her a new uncomfortable feeling of loneliness and impending loss. Her life is changed by the arrival of a new neighbor (Gregory Hines, as the only male in the film who is not a dog) who conveniently likes a woman with a little meat on her bones. Lela Rochon co-stars as Robin, a businesswoman (I guess—we do see her in a meeting) lost in the singles world. She tries several stereotypical men on for size in this film, but we never really know just what she is looking for and some of her choices (considering her babe-ness, if you will) are questionable. The film follows the adventures and misadventures of these four women and their "dogs" and ends somewhat abruptly with only one or two subplots resolved which was fine for me because at a length of two hours, I had had enough. At about an hour into the film, I had re-titled it "Waiting For the End Credits."
I didn't particularly like the portrayal of men or women in this film and I feel somewhat betrayed by director Forrest Whitaker. I think this film may have succeeded on another level had a woman directed it instead. Whitaker's male characters are basically cardboard jerks, and the females are needy, clingy creatures who obviously can't function unless they're being screwed over by these cardboard men in some way. The only two white characters in the film are a woman who gets slapped for stealing Bernadine's husband and a young lady who gets to perform oral sex on Gloria's son. Reverse racism, I cry! For me, the movie doesn't know what it wants to be. The sex scenes aren't sexy, the comedic scenes aren't funny, and the dramatic scenes are of soap opera quality. The only thing that did work for me was Angela Basset's scorned woman performance. It was so good it belonged in another movie.
How does the disc look? How do your laserdiscs look? Fox released this film the same day it unleashed the Alien series. Obviously they weren't interested in giving this film the Alien polish. Picture quality is indeed of the laserdisc variety, with occasional shimmering and bleeding. The exterior shots of Phoenix look lovely however, and the DVD could be used as a vehicle to promote tourism. If this film did one thing for me, it made me want to visit Arizona. The Dolby 5.1 Surround audio track is fine as with any film shot these days. The score by Babyface is basically a compilation soundtrack with infrequent use of incidental music. A separate music-only audio track or music directory may have added an extra incentive to the disc, but we're talking Fox here people. As for extras, we get a full frame trailer and a cast list. That's it, a list. No biographies, a list. I can fax it to you if you want. I can't really complain about Fox because I recognize and admire their strategy: Restore, enhance and polish the good stuff, throw the crappy titles out on the market with little or no effort whatsoever. At least they're not going the Warners full-frame route.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fans of Whitney Houston, Angela Basset or McMillan's novel (which I have to admit I've never read…and this film has justified that choice) may enjoy this treatment that captures the spirit of the novel format and the camaraderie of lonely, single, African-American women. Wesley Snipes also pops up in an unbilled cameo and is quite effective.
I wanted to like this film; in fact, I came close to catching it in the theater two years ago. But these days if I'm gonna spend the time and money that it takes just to get there, you gotta show me some stuff. This film just doesn't deliver.
This film is guilty of being prejudiced against men, women, white women, dogs and just about anything that breathes. Fox is once again guilty of a laserdisc re-hash. Considering the film, charges dismissed.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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