Waiting to Exhale (1995) 20th Century Fox/Drama RT: 124 minutes Rated R (language, strong sexual content, drugs) Director: Forest Whitaker Screenplay: Terry McMillan and Ronald Bass Music: Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds Cinematography: Toyomichi Kurita Release date: December 22, 1995 Starring: Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine, Gregory Hines, Dennis Haysbert, Mykelti Williamson, Michael Beach, Leon, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Wendell Pierce, Donald Faison, Jeffrey D. Sams. Box Office: $67 million (US)
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned ...... yes or no? Watching Bernadine Harris' (Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It?) reaction to her husband leaving her for another woman, I would answer "Yes, indeed!". For the record, the actual quote goes like this- "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned." (playwright/poet William Congreve). Either way, we're talking about one pissed off woman here! Thank God she has the support of three close friends who have their own personal issues with the opposite sex. Adapted from Terry McMillan's 1992 best seller, Waiting to Exhale follows four African-American over the course of a year, all of whom are holding their breath until they're in a solid relationship with a good man. As a member of the male species, I can't say that I completely understand the mind of a woman, but I have enough of an understanding to know that it's a major struggle to find the proverbial "right one", somebody who wants a committed relationship, one in which the love is both passionate and mutual. Yes, men have the same romantic woes as women, but most of the men in this movie (in the vernacular of my generation) suck. Waiting to Exhale also explores the bonds of friendship as the ladies commiserate over their man problems and support one another through their toughest times. Ultimately, it's a testament to their inner strength, the power to rise above their problems and stand strong ...... they are women, hear them roar!
Waiting to Exhale opens on New Year's Eve with Savannah Jackson (Houston, The Bodyguard) moving into the Phoenix, Arizona area, the same city where her three closest friends happen to reside. Although she's looking for a committed relationship, she can't quite get over Kenneth (Haysbert, Heat), her married lover. She clings onto the belief that he will someday leave his wife and child to be with her. Robin Stokes (Rochon, Harlem Nights), a powerful business executive, can't seem to find a decent man of her own and keeps going back to the married Russell (Leon, The Five Heartbeats). Gloria Matthews (Devine, Jumping the Broom) is a single mother with a teenage son Tarik (Faison, Scrubs) who's about to graduate high school. She's having a hard time letting go, especially after her ex-husband David (Esposito, Do the Right Thing) comes out and admits that he's gay. She's against allowing Tarik to go to Spain with Up with People. Then Marvin (Hines, Running Scared) moves in across the street and they take a real liking to each other. Then there's Bernadine, she's about to have the most difficult year of her life. After 11 years of marriage, her husband John (Beach, Soul Food) announces (on New Year's Eve, no less!) that he's leaving her for a white woman. Needless to say, she doesn't take this news well. Among other things, she burns all of his clothing and sells his belongings for $1 apiece at a yard sale. She has every right to be angry, she abandoned her dreams of opening a catering business so she could raise the kids, she also supported him as he got his own business off the ground. Bernadine goes through periods of depression and rage, all the while trying to take care of her two young children.
Overall, Waiting to Exhale makes for some decent melodrama, it brings to mind the estrogen-fuelled 1939 drama The Women except that we do see the male characters in this movie. Not all of the men in Waiting to Exhale are bad, Marvin is a decent man who really cares about Gloria and Tarik, he even takes care of a few home repairs for her. Bernadine encounters James (Snipes, New Jack City) while having a drink and it appears that they really connect with one another. He's married to a woman who's dying of breast cancer, so he and Bernadine offer some comfort to one another that afternoon (nothing sexual!). Waiting to Exhale features good performances from a talented and attractive cast. I find Houston's performance particularly impressive, she must have gotten some acting lessons since The Bodyguard. It's the only movie that features the late singer in a non-singing role, although she does have some songs on the best-selling soundtrack. Bassett delivers a powerful performance as the scorned and pissed off woman, one of her most powerful moments is when she shows up at John's workplace and slaps the hell out of his mistress. Devine does a good job as a woman going through a major transition, soon her son will leave the nest and she will be alone unless she lets down her guard and allows herself to fall in love. Rochon also turns in a good performance as a woman who keeps getting involved with losers, like the drug-addicted Troy (Williamsom, Forrest Gump) who ends up stealing her wallet. It's a well made movie with beautiful cinematography and a wonderful R&B soundtrack courtesy of Edmonds (Great job, Babyface!). It's a chick flick all the way and it's quite good, even if it does drag a bit here and there. I'll conclude with a little anecdote about something I witnessed at the box office shortly after the film's release. A thirty-ish couple was standing in line and the man said "I ain't seeing no damn Waiting to Exhale!". Keeping in sync with the whole female empowerment thing, you can guess what movie that man ended up seeing (hint, it wasn't Casino or Heat). Perhaps he really needed to see Waiting to Exhale.