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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Retro Review: Waiting To Exhale (1995)

Waiting For Exhale
Cast: Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine, Dennis Haysbert, Gregory Hines, Donald Faison
Genre: Romantic Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $84 million

Plot: Four very different African-American women find strength through their rare and special relationship who are all in search for the real thing: true love

'Inhale, Exhale, Now Breathe'

Written and executively produced by Ronald Bass and Terry McMillian with direction by actor Forrest Whitaker, Waiting To Exhale is based on the novel and was given the big-screen & star treatment. It's part- Steel Magnolias, part -The Joy Luck Club, structure-wise, mixed in with sass and attitude all within a Black subtext. Throw in an 'all men are dogs' subplot and you got yourself a movie.

Set in Phoenix, Arizona, four women experience love, hardships, heartbreak and relationships with the different men they encounter in their lives 

Though Bass wrote this story with Black characters in mind, Waiting to Exhale is a film where if you replace African-American characters with Caucasian, Asian or Latino ones, the story would be no more different than what it is already. With Ronald Bass's movies, the stories and the tone that they evoke can be cookie-cutter-ish and get a bit too melodramatic & for some Black audiences, Waiting To Exhale is a bit too much in the vein of mainstream hits, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Ghost which are a hit with general audiences, but these are also the types of movies that attract females and Bass does write from the perspective of a male in these female characters and he does it well. For non-Black audiences, the tales in Waiting to Exhale are still universal to anyone and everyone, even they are in the Black subtext. People suffer, get hurt, cry, fall in love and turn to their friends and loved ones for emotional support, brotherly and sisterly love. That never changes. & with Waiting To Exhale, this was the first Black film to do that and to break stereotypes, well, with the protagonist women characters at least.

The strength and conviction of performances given by the cast are what elevates the film (with Angela Bassett and Lela Rochon giving the best turns for me). I loved Bassett in What's Love Got to Do With It? as Tina Turner and in Strange Days, where she went one better than this film; although she still gives an excellent account of herself as an actress. As for Whitney, and though I hate to speak ill of the dead, her performance just didn't wow me. The story and direction, which isn't much to shout about, did give it prominence and watchability, although I was a little disappointed by the homophobic slurs being used, the female characters are thinly-veiled and in all honesty, they lacked characterisation. I needed to find out a bit more about them, besides of them shacking up with some man and having sex with him and that all the Black male characters, but for Gregory Hines character, were given the one-dimensional negative and cynical treatment & were all portrayed as good-for-nothings, adulterers & deadbeats.

Final Verdict:

The material is far from blockbuster quality and but for some moments, it doesn't necessarily explode on many accounts; despite this, Waiting to Exhale has barely enough quality to make it worthwhile through the casting and the performances. Sadly, the bland and sub-par material needed livening up in certain moments and in the star names of Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston, Forrest Whitaker & writer Ronald Bass opted for flash, without the bang and style over substance.

So it did feel a little lacking. Would I watch it again though? Yes.


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