Waiting to Exhale is a 1995 American romance film directed by Forest Whitaker (in his feature film directorial debut) and starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. The film was adapted from the 1992 novel of the same name by Terry McMillan. Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine, Dennis Haysbert, Michael Beach, Gregory Hines, Donald Faison, and Mykelti Williamson rounded out the rest of the cast. The original music score was composed by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. The story centers on four female friends living in the Phoenix, Arizona area and their relationships with men and one another. All of them are "holding their breath" until the day they can feel comfortable in a committed relationship with a man.
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"Friends are the People who let you be yourself—and Never let you forget it"
Waiting to Exhale is a story about four African-American women—Savannah, Robin, Bernadine, and Gloria—who go through different stages of love and life.
Savannah "’Vannah" Jackson is a successful television producer who holds on to the belief that one day her married lover will leave his wife for her. She later comes to find that he will never leave his wife and she must find her own man who will love her for her and for who she is.
Bernadine "Bernie" Harris abandons her own career dreams and desire of having a catering business to raise a family and support her husband, who leaves her for a white woman.
Robin Stokes is a high-powered executive and the long-time mistress of married Russell. She has problems finding a decent man of her own after dumping him.
Gloria "Glo" Matthews is a beauty salon owner and single mother. After years alone, and finding out that her ex-husband, who is also the father of her son, has come out of the closet as gay, she falls in love with a new neighbor, Marvin King.
The four friends get together to provide support, listen to each other vent about life and love, and have fun, as they go through life's trials and tribulations.
Savannah ends up dumping her married lover for good. Bernadine gets a large divorce settlement from her ex-husband and finds love with a widowed father who is a civil rights attorney. He encourages Bernie to pursue her catering dreams.
Robin ends up pregnant by her married lover, but dumps him and decides to raise the baby on her own.
Gloria learns to not be so overprotective of her son, and lets him go on an "Up With People" trip to Spain. She apologizes to her neighbor for snapping at him when he suggested that she should let her son grow up and experience the world, and she finds love while learning to take care of herself rather than being overly self-sacrificing in her devotion to her son and her business.
Waiting to Exhale was a financial success, opening at number-one at the North American box office, grossing $14.1 million in its first weekend of release. In total, the film grossed $67.05 million in North America, and $14.4 million internationally, for a total worldwide gross of $81.45 million. Its widest release was in just over 1,400 theatres and was the 26th highest-grossing film of 1995.
Upon release, the film received mixed reviews from critics. Film critic Susan Stark from The Detroit News stated, "For all the pleasure there is in seeing effective, great-looking black women grappling with major life issues on screen, Waiting to Exhale is an uneven piece." Reviewer Liam Lacey from The Daily Globe and Mail said of the film, "[It] never escapes the queasy aura of Melrose Place: just another story about naive people with small problems." However, film critic Roger Ebert positively reviewed the film, stating that it is "an escapist fantasy that women in the audience can enjoy by musing, 'I wish I had her problems'—and her car, house, wardrobe, figure and men, even wrong men." The film received a 54% approval rating at review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews.
In the book Is Marriage for White People? writer and Stanford Law School professor Ralph Richard Banks states that the film is a perfect example of the problems African-American women have in finding serious relationships.
The soundtrack to the film featured exclusively female African-American artists. The soundtrack included the number-one hit song "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)", sung by the film's star, Whitney Houston, as well as "Not Gon' Cry" by Mary J. Blige, "Sittin' Up in My Room" by Brandy, and "Count on Me" by Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans, all of which reached the top ten of Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Interviewed in the spring of 2011 on an episode of The Talk, Angela Bassett confirmed that a sequel was in the planning stages, with all the female principals signed on to star, and Whitaker returning to direct. The film would be based on McMillan's 2010 follow-up novel, Getting to Happy; McMillan was adapting the book to screenplay as well. As of July 2012, no news has come of the sequel, and after Houston's death in February 2012, it is unknown whether the role of Savannah Jackson will be recast.
In a 2012 interview with blackenterprise.com screenwriter Michael Elliot revealed he was writing the script for the sequel "I was hired with Terry McMillian’s blessings, it’s her baby. These are her characters and [in the sequel] I’m treating the women like they are iconic. It’s a pretty big deal and I’m very excited. This is like selling my first script! We’re shooting this thing next summer or something but with me, I’ve yet to actually write the script, I've just started it. It’s really hard to say [when the film will be released]."