The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 70.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Women in Exhale cut the strings of strained love


Directed by Forest Whitaker.

Starring Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine.

Sony Copley Place.

By Audrey Wu
Staff Reporter

For those of us who are undergraduates, it's somewhat early to be actively searching for "The One." Ladies, you know who I mean by The One: He has to be a man with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose; a man who is tender, strong, and confident without being wimpy, rude, or arrogant. He probably isn't on this campus, that's for sure (or if he is, was snatched up by someone else a long time ago). But this hardly means that we aren't keeping our eyes (and hearts) open, hoping to find HIM. And in searching for The One, we also open ourselves up to heartbreaking encounters with several Definitely-NOT-The-Ones.

Waiting to Exhale, the provocative motion picture based on the bestseller by Terry McMillan, is the story of thirty-something women coping with the string of losers they stumble over in their search for decent men. The film has generated considerable interest since its release; Oprah Winfrey recently devoted a show to the Waiting to Exhale "parties" held by women with the same problems.

Despite the almost entirely black cast, women (and a few brave men) of all colors have been flocking to movie theaters in droves to see it. And this should not be surprising given the commercials, which show a classily-dressed Whitney Houston explaining how she's been asking God for years to send her a decent man. Instead, she got Lionel, a suave two-timing freeloader, and Kenneth, who would be perfect if he weren't already married. "God's got a lot of explaining to do," she says as the commercial cuts to a very pissed-off-looking Angela Bassett coolly walking away from an expensive sports car going up in flames. A commercial like that would probably generate at least a little interest in any woman who has even once gone through the anguished throes of heartbreak. Waiting to Exhale is not meant to be an incisive commentary on relationships, but instead a movie to be watched with a few of your closest single girlfriends to help reaffirm why it's okay (and often times better) NOT to have a man.

The film should be commended for bringing the vibrant voices of middle-class African-American women to the fore. In addition, the performances by the four heroines were quite good; although the characters often times act as dumb as dishwater, the actresses manage to shine and the camaraderie among the four women appears heartwarmingly genuine. Whitney Houston plays Savannah, who is intent on fulfilling two ambitions: to become a successful TV producer and to snag the Mr. Right who has eluded her all these years. She would actually let go of the latter if it weren't for her meddling but well-meaning mother, who doesn't want Savannah to end up old and alone like herself (even if it means settling for the lying, two-timing Kenneth). Angela Bassett plays Bernadine, who has the heart-wrenching misfortune of sacrificing eleven years of her life to support her husband and advance his business. In a particularly ugly scene, her husband announces that, after years of treating her like standard office help, he is leaving her and their two children for his white bookkeeper.

Robin, played by Lela Rochon, is the dumbest of the four when it comes to men. She continuously ends up in bed with men who are basically the scum of the Earth. The group's fourth, Gloria, played by Loretta Devine, looks to food instead of men for solace, resulting in extra pounds and low self-esteem. In addition, she is having a difficult time letting go of her precocious but difficult son, Tarik, who aspires to spend a year playing the saxophone with an orchestra in Spain. She turns to her intriguing new neighbor, Marvin (Gregory Hines) for comfort, who, fortunately for her, "likes his women with a little meat on their bones."

The film opens with a lot of promise. The heroines are interesting, the men deserve to be shot, and there are several funny scenes (admittedly, the funniest scenes of the movie were also the ones that earned it an R-rating and showcased the mens' ineptness as lovers). In addition, the film does make some rather incisive observations of post-relationship-trauma female behavior. It is empowering to watch Bernadine do only what most women dream of doing after her husband leaves her: In a rather frightening fit of rage, she crams his expensive sports car with his clothes and sets it ablaze. She then proceeds to sell the rest of his belongings - skis, trophies, everything - at a $1-for-everything garage sale. And when she confronts her husband in the middle of a board meetings, she slaps him and the hapless white bookkeeper, and then cuts off all of her hair. Later, when she is drunk, she attempts to call the white bookkeeper, because, as she sobs, "I have to get things off of my chest!" These are scenes which women can relate to.

The film's weakness, however, lies in its disjointedness and the extreme blindness of the characters. The movie never quite manages to hit home because the four friends somehow encounter almost every kind of bad man there is (except, thankfully, the wife-beater). Every clichd line is said in the movie, from the divorce-takes-time line to the yes-I-love-you-now-can-we-have-sex line. After the first 45 minutes of the film, I started wondering why the women were so stupid. I stopped relating to them and started wanting to beat them over the head with a stick. Then suddenly and for no good reason, except that the film was nearing the two-hour mark, the women suddenly got their lives together and rid themselves of the leeches. And although I was happy for them, I was left feeling rather let down and confused. It would have been better if the movie had shown how the women gained the strength to leave those losers behind (I suppose I should read the book for that).

You will enjoy the movie if you are a female in a vengeful, "men suck, I hate them all" sort of mood. If you are male, I would suggest not choosing this film for your first date; furthermore, unless you want to watch two hours of male bashing, I wouldn't suggest seeing it at all. The male friend with whom I saw the film left feeling pretty harassed. Waiting to Exhale, along with the Alanis Morrisette CD, a big tub of ice cream, and your best friend's phone number, definitely belongs in your stockpile of things to turn to when you've been dumped.