On Waiting to Exhale

I love Waiting to Exhale! I am very particular to Savannah Jackson, as in the film, she says this:

Here it is New Year’s and I’m geeked up for a blind date that’s not even all that. Just some party this guy’s voice invited my answering machine to when got worn out playing phone tag. A long time ago, I asked God to send me a decent man. I got Robert, Cedric, Darrell and Kenneth. God’s got some serious explaining to do. So my prayers got more detailed. Like, how about some compassion? Could he have a sense of purpose? A sense of integrity? Could he listen?

The truth is, most men are deaf. They prefer to guess what you need, but they don’t guess worth shit. They lie without a conscience. What they’re best at is convincing us we should feel desperate. Thank God I don’t fall for that shit.

However, to be fair, the inspiration for this comes from pages 11 through 14 from the novel:

After I finished both hands and started blowing on them, I was wondering: Is it really possible to want something so bad that you could make it happen just by thinking about it? I mean, could I just dream myself up a husband? Wouldn’t it sort of be like praying? A long time ago, I asked God to please send me a decent man, and one by one, what I got was Robert, Cedric, Raymond, and Kenneth. Unfortunately, I left out some very important details: like how about a little compassion, some pride as opposed to cockiness, some confidence as opposed to arrogance. Now I’m more specific: Could You make sure he talks what he feels and not just about what he thinks? Could he have a genuine sense of purpose in life, a sense of humor, and could he already be what he aspired to? Could he be honest, responsible, mature, drug-free, and a little bit spontaneous? Could he be full of zest, good-enough-looking for me, and please let him be a slow, tender, passionate lover? It takes me forever to say my prayers these days, but I don’t care, because this time around, I want to make sure God doesn’t have to do any guesswork.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve spent nine years of my adult life living with three different men that I’m glad I didn’t marry because all three of them were mistakes. Back then, I felt like I had to live with them in order to find out that I couldn’t live with them. However, I refuse to live with another one unless I’m married to him: That much I do know. I’ll take my chances next time around. People aren’t so quick to call it quits when they’re married. I’m also willing to spend the rest of my life alone if I have to, until I find someone that makes me feel like I was born with a tiara on my head. People like Sheila and Mama are beginning to make me feel as if I should be embarrassed or ashamed for not having a husband by now. Mama’s got about ten empty pages in the family scrapbook set aside for my wedding pictures. At this point, they’d rather see me settle for some lackluster man with the right credentials: put my yearnings for love a little lower on the totem pole and just be done with it. But I can’t do that. All I’ve got is one life, and this is one area too large for me to compromise.

As a matter of fact, most of the men I’ve met over the last few years have been boring, selfish, manipulative, or weak. Worse than babies. Got an excuse for everything. Some were just plain lost. Of course the flip side is the die-hard buppies, who think the true measure of success is how much money they make, what kind of car they drive, how big their house is, and how much pussy they can get before they die. Their priorities are all fucked up. And the more successful they are, the more arrogant they are. They’ve taken these stupid statistics about us to heart and are having the time of their lives. They do not hold themselves accountable to anybody for anything, and they’re getting away with murder when it comes to women. And we let them. They lie to us without a conscience, they fuck as many of us at a time as they want to and then cry that “I’m not ready to make a commitment yet” bullshit as soon as you act like you’re serious about them. They have done one helluva job convincing themselves – and a whole lot of us-that we should feel desperate, which is why so many of us are willing to do damn near anything to snag one of them. Well, not me. I don’t need a man to rescue me or take care of me financially-I can take care of myself. What would be nice is to know you’re with one who’s looking out for your best interests, one who makes you feel special, safe, and secure. And one who excites you. I’m tired of being the thriller, always trying to prove myself. Shit, I want to be the thrillee for a change. I want a man to go out of his way for me. It would also be nice to meet one who understands that it takes more than a stiff dick to keep a woman happy. But most of the one’s I’ve met don’t have a clue.

What I want to know is this. How do you tell a man-in a nice way-that he makes you sick? Cecil was so vulgar when he drank that I had to drive his ass home after we went out. Which was all of three times. he still doesn’t understand why I didn’t want to see him anymore. Bill just irritated the hell out of me. I think he got a real change bringing everything he thought I did wrong to my attention. He corrected me whenever I mispronounced a word and told me that I watered my plants too much. He wouldn’t eat my jelly because some dots of butter were in it. And he insisted on showing me how to get more dishes in the dishwasher. He was always right, and everything had to be done his way. He made me want to throw up. And what if a man’s a drag in bed? This list is too long to name names, but of course all black men think they can fuck because they all have at least ten-inch dicks. I wish I could tell some of them that they should start checking the dictionary under F for “foreplay,” G for “gentle,” and T for “tender” or “take your time.” I’ve wanted to tell some of them that acrobatics and banging the hell out of me is not the same as making love. I’ve had enough bladder infections to last the rest of my life. And boring? John and Eliot were beyond dull. All they ever talked about were their jobs and sports. At first I thought this shit was masculine, but they lived and breathed for ESPN. Both of them had satellites, which is why neither of them lasted longer than a baseball season. And what about Sam and Arthur and a few others, who were “recreational” drug users but couldn’t do anything unless they did a few lines or smoked a joint first? I made the mistakes of telling them that right after college cocaine became my drug of choice but I stopped doing that shit years and years ago. Now that we’re all damn near middle age, I don’t want to be around anybody who’s still into drugs. And I’m not interested in rehabilitating anybody, either. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. And Darrell. The wimp. He was scared of damned near everything: spiders, snakes, mice, height, and he wouldn’t drive at night and couldn’t fix shit. And then there’re the rest, the ones who wanted to own me after I slept with them two or three times, or the ones who were just too stiff and IBMish, or so married to their jobs that they hardly had any time left for themselves, let alone me.

I have tried being honest, telling them as diplomatically as I possibly could that they just weren’t right for me, that they shouldn’t take it personally because there was somebody out there for everybody. Which is how I became “the bitch.” They couldn’t stand the thought of being rejected, that I didn’t want them, so of course something had to be wrong with me. I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve spent tons of energy trying to be. I wanted to tell all of them to come back and see after they grow up or got some serious counseling. Unfortunately, most men are deaf. They hate advice. Especially if it’s from a woman. They get defensive as hell if you so much as suggest there’s a few things they might try doing that would truly please you. “Fuck you” is what they ended up saying to me, because they didn’t want to be told what I liked or needed; they preferred to guess. Well, I’m here to tell you that at least seventy-five percent of the ones I’ve met were terrible guessers.

Savannah is my spirit animal! According to The New York Times review:

Everyone has heard that Mr. Right is dead. The novelist Rona Jaffe announced his demise 30 years ago in one of her catchier book titles, and since then the women’s movement has driven several boxes of nails into his coffin.

But is he really done for? Despite themselves, the four black women whose turbulent love lives are explored with a salty good humor in “Waiting to Exhale” all subscribe to the myth of a knight in shining armor. By the end of the film, adapted by Terry McMillan (with Ronald Bass) from her best-selling novel, one of the four actually finds her Prince Charming, and another has established a long-distance correspondence with someone who shows distinct Mr. Right potential.

But these princely paragons are shining exceptions. Most of the boyfriends who parade through the lives of Savannah (Whitney Houston), Bernadine (Angela Bassett), Gloria (Loretta Devine) and Robin (Lela Rochon) are buffoons or cads or both. The women respond to their egotism, double-dealing and hilariously depicted sexual ineptitude with varying degrees of tolerance and amusement, until they run out of patience. Then, in time-honored soap opera fashion, they tell off the men who have mistreated them in speeches that have a flouncy dramatic flourish.

Although “Waiting to Exhale” aspires to be more than a glossy soap opera, beneath its feistiness it is awash in romantic fantasy. Contributing to the heady atmosphere is a luscious soundtrack of pop ballads, most of them written and produced by Kenneth Edmonds, more commonly known as Babyface, and featuring Ms. Houston, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Toni Braxton and half a dozen other pop divas, all singing near the top of their form. Although the songs slip unobtrusively in and out of the background, they function as a subliminal Greek chorus that lends the movie a pink romantic glow. That glow matches the story’s Phoenix setting, a posh suburban paradise of rosy sunsets and large, immaculate living rooms.

Of the four main characters, Bernadine has by far the most drama in her life. And Ms. Bassett lends a raging, spitfire fury to the role of a wife whose rich smoothie of a husband dumps her for a white woman and then tries to cheat her out of a decent divorce settlement. No sooner has he walked out on her than she empties a closet full of his fancy clothes into the back of a car, douses the pile with gasoline and sets it on fire. Ms. Bassett’s fuming performance is the movie’s riskiest and most compelling, and gives the movie its dramatic backbone.

Her friends’ problems aren’t as dire and could all be boiled down to a question of looking for Mr. Right. Savannah keeps falling for dreamboats with feet of clay. Her situation isn’t helped by a bossy mother who keeps advising her to be patient and wait for her smug married lover to divorce his wife. Gloria, a hairdresser recently separated from her bisexual husband, is raising a teen-age son. Possible romance appears in the form of Marvin (Gregory Hines), her new next-door neighbor. Boy-crazy Robin suffers through a succession of sleazy lovers just for the sake of having someone.

“Waiting to Exhale” is the first feature film directed by Forest Whitaker, a fine actor who elicits flashy, full-bodied performances from his four leading ladies. Ms. Houston has shed the defensive hauteur that made her portrayal of a pop star in “The Bodyguard” seem so distant. Ms. Devine gives her character, a woman of some girth, a sexy comic swivel, and Ms. Rochon exudes a smoldering heat.

But as storytelling, the movie is little more than a collection of vignettes strung around candy-sweet soundtrack. Like the score, whose high point is Aretha Franklin wailing her heart out in a Babyface ballad, “It Hurts Like Hell,” “Waiting to Exhale” is a series of star turns by four appealing divas conjuring glamorous dramatic fireworks for a director who clearly loves them.




3 thoughts on “On Waiting to Exhale

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