Thursday, September 06, 2007

MOVIE: Two droll lines from 'Waiting to Exhale'

The latest droll lines I'm adding to the list are from the movie, Waiting to Exhale (1995). The dramatic/romantic/comedic film, based on Terry McMillan's best-selling novel, was directed by Forest Whitaker, musically produced by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and starred in by the actors listed below.

These actresses played the lovely, love-challenged heroines:

  • Angela Bassett (pictured, right, with husband Courney Vance, courtesy of Wikipedia>>Angela Bassett) - played Bernadine 'Bernie' Harris and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture
  • Whitney Houston - played Savannah 'Vannah' Jackson and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture, and for an MTV Movie Award for Best Song From a Movie: "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)"
  • Loretta Devine - played Gloria 'Glo' Matthews and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
  • Lela Rochon - played Robin Stokes and was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Female Breakthrough Performance, and for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
  • These actors played the men in their lives. for better or worse:

    • Michael Beach (pictured right as "Doc" Parker on Third Watch, courtesy of>>Michael Beach) - as John Harris, Sr.
    • Giancarlo Esposito - David Matthews
    • Donald Faison - Tarik Matthews
    • Dennis Haysbert - Kenneth Dawkins
    • Gregory Hines - Marvin King
    • Leon - Russell
    • Wendell Pierce - Michael Davenport
    • Jeffrey D. Sams - Lionel
    • Wesley Snipes - James Wheeler, Esq.
    • Mykelti Williamson - Troy
    These exchanges inspired this post:

    EXCHANGE ONE: Bernadine's husband of 11 years and her children's father announces he is leaving Bernadine for his blonde bookkeeper, effective that night. He makes this pronouncement after he and his wife have gussied up for a black tie New Year's Eve party being hosted by the company Bernadine helped build. To help build the business, Bernadine has tabled - at her husband's request - her dreams of starting a catering service.

    Days later, in a scene evocative of, "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" (and shortly before she cuts her long, luxurious hair short), the jilted wife stuffs John-the-jerk's many upscale suits into his BMW, pours lighter fluid through the sunroof, and ignites them with the match she has used to light her cigarette. This is an act of empowerment, of rebellion, and of reclaiming her home and her dignity.

    What follows is a brilliant series of non-verbal gestures evocative of the black-and-white movie sirens Bette Davis (e.g., in Now, Voyager - (1942) see photo, right courtesy of YouTube) and Lauren Bacall (e.g., in To Have and Have Not) (1944). In the Forties, lighting up, smoking, and exhaling had specific symbolic meanings in films. Depending upon the context, those acts and references to them signified various stages of romance (attraction, intentions to liaise, and post-coital satisfaction), liberation, rebellion, and power. Waiting to Exhale pays homage to that legacy, most explicitly in the above-mentioned scene.

    With the exception of this scene, the smoking behavior in Waiting to Exhale is excessive. However, at this juncture, Bernadine's behavior signifies several rites of passage. She ignites her cigarette preparatory burning John's car and clothes in a purging by fire that simultaneously exorcises her home of John's status symbols, and sacrifices him in effigy. John's vehicle and wardrobe are conspicuous fruits of their joint labors, and the obsessive orderliness of his well-stocked drastically contrasts with the disorder and the void his act of betrayal is imposing on his family's lives.

    Afterward, Bernadine exhales, swivels, and with a triumphant gesture, flounces into her fabulous house and firmly shuts the door. The ensuing exchange was with a fireman who extinguished John's flaming luxury car and the designer duds within it.
    • Fireman (Graham Galloway): It's illegal to burn anything in this neighborhood but garbage.
    • Bernadine (Angela Bassett): It is garbage.

    EXCHANGE TWO: Savannah is at a restaurant with the physician whom she has, until recently, mistaken for the love of her life. He had inexplicably abandoned her years ago, and has recently resurfaced: married to someone else, and a father. He's used Savannah's mother to track down his old flame, has made less-than-credible pronouncements about being unhappy at home and planning to divorce, and has declared that Savannah is his true love, too.

    Savannah, against her better judgment, has resumed their affair. However, Kenneth's treatment of his wife, his mischaracterization of how he and Savannah parted, and Savannah's self-protective instincts prevail. In this scene, she tells him like it is, and literally, takes a stand.
    Kenneth (Dennis Haysbert), seated: I'm not mad.

    • Savannah (Whitney Houston), standing, and just before purposely spilling his drink in his lap: I'm not mad, either. Just to prove it, the drinks are on you!
    View my last movie line post, MOVIE: My favorite line from 'Carlito's Way'.