If “Waiting To Exhale” is strictly one for the “women’s audience,” as some scuttlebutt has held, then what are such actors as Gregory Hines and “Forrest Gump’s” Mykelti Williamson doing giving the film the best performances of their careers?
No slight intended to the leading players - Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon - but the guys carry a great deal of the weight of this emotionally complex movie. Never mind that the basic message is a modern-day twist on that old blues lament, “A good man is hard to find.”
Terry McMillan’s collaborative script, adapted from her well-received book with Ronald Bass as co-screenwriter, might be legitimately accused of male-bashing if her tales of friendship and solidarity were not such accurate reflections of life.
McMillan’s writing is resolutely African-American on one level, but it transcends ethnicity on higher levels. Her stories have much in common with the blues, which reflect the human condition-at-large.
Savannah Jackson (Houston), Bernadine Harris (Bassett), Gloria Johnson (Devine) and Robin Stokes (Rochon) are devoted friends whose camaraderie serves as a shield against an onslaught of disappointments from their men.
The gents include Williamson, doing a suave and devilish turnabout from the lumbering good guy he played in “Gump” (1994); and Hines, as a new neighbor who might be just what the doctor ordered for Devine’s sadly hopeful character. In the oily arrogance of Williamson’s portrayal and the intriguing mix of shyness and directness found in Hines’ character, we find work that is essential to an understanding of the actors.
Houston, in her first big-screen effort since “The Bodyguard” (1992), is spirited and approachable as the quartet’s extrovert. Bassett meets the film’s quota for aggressive ambition. Lesser-known players Rochon and Devine account for the fundamental elements of dysfunctional romance and longings for a brighter tomorrow.
Clearly, much of the success of “Waiting To Exhale” belongs to Forest Whitaker, who weighs in as a director after an impressive span of acting in lead and character roles including “Smoke” (1995) and “A Rage in Harlem” (1991). Whitaker’s touch is that of an “actor’s director,” indulging each player’s ability to convey the right personality, but he also keeps the pace clicking along.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Waiting To Exhale” Location: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Forest Whitaker; starring Whitney Houston, Gregory Hines, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Lela Rochon and Mykelti Williamson Running time: 2:03 Rating: R