NEW YORK (Reuters) - Filmmaker Tyler Perry has had no trouble claiming financial success when audiences flock to his comedies, but this week his box office pull will be tested with the dark drama, "For Colored Girls."
Currently America's most successful African American film director who often attaches his name to movies adapted from his own stage plays, Perry has raked in more than $450 million at box offices, mostly in the United States.
But his new movie, "For Colored Girls," opening on Friday, is far removed from the comedic fare for which he first gained fame, including "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea's Family Reunion.
"For Colored Girls" tackles issues such as abuse and abortion, and is adapted from poet and playwright Ntozake Shange's, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf."
"This was the most intimidating work I have ever taken on," Perry told reporters in a recent news conference. "I walked away from it many times."
Yet the intertwining stories of nine women facing trials in their everyday lives kept pulling him back, and for his adaptation, Perry has updated the 1970s-era play with a film presentation of modern black women living in New York City who face troubling dilemmas and decisions.
Helping the movie's box office potential is its long roster of high-profile female actors and performers, including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton and Macy Gray.
But Carl DiOrio, a box office analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, said while pre-release interest was "high", the actresses alone were not enough to guarantee popularity.
"It's a solid cast but the cast itself won't necessarily drive the opening. If there is a star in the mix it's Tyler Perry," he said. "There is no doubt that he delivers a fan base. (But) because of the turn into much grittier fare that he takes with this film, it remains to be seen how it plays over subsequent weekends."
The film is projected to make Perry's usual opening haul of around $20 million based on tracking surveys, said DiOrio, but the long-term box office was unclear as "it's hard to market this like a typical Tyler Perry movie."
Adding to that are questions over whether Perry can handle translating Shange's poetic monologues and capture her feminist sensibilities. Early critical reaction has been mixed.
"While Perry's craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach," said Variety in its review.
Shange, who met with Perry several times to discuss his script, has said she is "75 percent" happy with the screen adaptation, after becoming used to various adaptations.
"This is an opportunity for her work to be presented to a much wider audience," her associate Claude Sloan told Reuters. "She looks at that as a benefit, but she has trepidation as any artist would at being at the hands of another artist."
Perry, who produced, directed and wrote the film told reporters he was satisfied with the end result: "I did the best work I could do at this time in my life."
Reacting to whether he was qualified to direct the film, he said, "as a man, it is difficult to understand a lot of this, but hearing these women say it, it really changed it all."
In addition, he said he wanted to "introduce it to a new generation."
And the cast said they supported Perry making the film.
"Who else could have done it?" said Kerry Washington. "The amount of creative capital that he has built in this industry, the empire that he has built, has allowed him to be the person that could make this project happen...I never thought 'Oh gosh, he's a man, he is not going to get it.'"
editing by Bob Tourtellotte