Waiting to Exhale

Article excerpt

Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett light up the silver screen just in time for the holidays in the anticipated film adaptation of Terry McMillan's enormously popular novel, Waiting To Exhale. The movie, a frank look at women's friendships and sexuality, is the provocative story of four Black women and their trials and tribulations as they navigate through the pitfalls of relationships with husbands and lovers.

Whitney Houston, the world renowned Grammy Award-winning recording star who made her acting debut in the blockbuster movie The Bodyguard in 1992, stars as the lead character, Savannah Jackson, who is a sexy, single young woman who returns from Denver to Phoenix, where she hopes to become a successful television producer and snag the long elusive Mr. Right in the process.

Bernadine Harris, Savannah's good friend, is portrayed by Angela Bassett, who has won accolades and acclaim for her sterling portrayal of Tina Turner in the film What's Love Got To Do With It, a role for which she received an Academy! Award nomination, and as Betty Shabazz in Spike Lee's Malcolm X. As the new film opens, Bernadine has just learned that her husband, after years of mistreating her and taking her for granted, has left her--along with their house, BMW and two children--and run off with their money and his young White bookkeeper. Suddenly single, Bernadine is incensed and boiling with anxieties about the turn her life has taken, and the action only heats up when she meets a new beau.

Their successful and sexually adventurous friend, Robin Stokes, is portrayed by Lela Rochon, who has appeared in Boomerang and Meteor Marl. It seems that Robin is suffering from a '90s syndrome taken right from a television talk show: she can't seem to stay away from lying, cheating pretty men, such as the drop-dead gorgeous Russell, portrayed by the actor Leon. Robin ignores ordinary-looking guys who are loving and adoring and most likely would make good husbands. Though Robin is supersmart when it comes to business matters, she loses all common sense when it comes to men.

The fourth actress in this talented and entertaining quartet is Loretta Devine, who portrays Gloria Johnson. Rather than seeking comfort in men like her friends, Gloria seeks solace in food. She also has a trendy hair salon and devotes considerable attention to her precocious but difficult teenage son, Tarik, portrayed by Donald A. Faison. Devine has appeared in a number of films, including Amos and Andrew, A Class Act and Little Nikita.

Waiting To Exhale was inspired by McMillan's personal experiences as she moved through unfulfilling, sometimes explosive romantic relationships over the years. And she realized that many of her friends were in the same boat: "educated, smart, attractive...and alone." She says it is not autobiographical, though bits of her experiences are found in each of the four characters.

In response to criticism that Black men are portrayed negatively in the movie, McMillan says there are positive male images in both the book and the film. However, she adds that the male characters were "hand-picked" to show women in certain situations and demonstrate how women make bad decisions in choosing the men in their lives. "They weren't all dogs," she says of her male characters. "But you have to understand, too, that these women were not exactly saints. Look at Robin. She's a real ditz, a dummy. Her whole world revolves around men, and the men she chooses don't treat her right. It says a lot about how she feels about herself. To make that point, we had to get a man who treated her that way."

McMillan emphasizes that both the book and the movie are "forms of entertainment, not anthropological studies," and that her male critics "need to go march again, stop being so immature and write their own books."

Waiting To Exhale, with its lush, vibrant cinematography, is directed by the highly respected actor/filmmaker Forest Whitaker, who won acclaim and respect for his riveting performances before the camera in The Crying Game and Bird. …