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Literature / Waiting to Exhale

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A 1992 novel by Terry McMillan, later made into a 1995 film adaptation directed by Forest Whitaker.

Savannah Jackson (Whitney Houston) is a successful television producer who holds on to the belief that one day her married lover (Dennis Haysbert) will leave his wife for her. Bernadine Harris (Angela Bassett) abandoned her own career and desires of having a catering business to raise a family. Her husband (Michael Beach) is now leaving her for a white woman. Robin Stokes (Lela Rochon) is a high-powered executive and the long-time mistress of Russell (Leon Robinson). She has problems finding a decent man of her own, while waiting for Russell to leave his wife. Gloria Matthews (Loretta Devine) is a beauty salon owner and single mother raising a teenage son (Donald Faison) who is preparing to leave home and travel the world with Up With People. After years alone, she falls in love with a new neighbor, Marvin King (Gregory Hines).

A sequel to McMillan's original novel, Getting to Happy, was published in 2010.


  • All Men Are Perverts: Except for James. Subverted with Marvin, who's apparently a Chubby Chaser but genuinely loves and respects Gloria. Notably, both are the only men in this film who aren't shown suffering from mass cases of infidelity.
  • Anger Montage: Bernadine goes on one against John's wardrobe after he leaves her, ultimately culminating in a Break-Up Bonfire (see below).
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Gloria, and Marvin loves it.
  • Break-Up Bonfire: Bernadine gets dumped by her husband for another woman, despite the fact that she spent the last 11 years sacrificing her dreams of owning her own business to help him build his. Her reaction is to take his entire very expensive wardrobe, stuff it in his very expensive car, and set the whole shebang on fire. What she couldn't get in the car, she sells at a garage sale, at a dollar per item.
  • Bros Before Hoes: The whole aesop of the film. Friendship and "sisterhood" are much better assets to a woman's life than being The Mistress of a married man who leads you on so as to have sex with another woman besides his wife.
  • Chick Flick: Subverted. The film is about women, but they are embittered, vengeful and disillusioned instead of all smiley and fluffy with Babies Ever After.
  • Company Credit Card Abuse: A plot line that was Adapted Out for the film. Robin is a shopaholic, drives a nice car and spends plenty of money on her appearance. Eventually she has to get a consolidation loan and they make her cut up most of her credit cards right there in the office. She ends up using her company card to pay for things like lunch and lingerie. Amazingly, nobody at work seems to notice.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The soundtrack spent five weeks at #1 and went 7x platinum. Its four lead singles were "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" by Houston (which peaked at #1 and won a Grammy), "Let It Flow" by Toni Braxton (which also topped the charts), "Sittin' Up In My Room" by Brandy, and "Not Gon' Cry" by Mary J. Blige.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Justified almost every single time. Most guys are such assholes in this movie that it's a wonder why any sane woman would even bother to give them the time of day.
  • The Film of the Book: The book was published three years prior.
  • Forensic Accounting: In the book, Bernadine is furious when she learns that John sold his partnership in his company so that her portion of her divorce settlement is less. Fortunately her divorce lawyer hires a forensic accountant who finds out about EVERYTHING John has been doing (swindling his partner, messing with the IRS) and uses that information to call his bluff. Bernadine ends up getting a settlement beyond her expectations.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Savannah is the straight-laced, responsible one, Gloria is the Team Mom of the group, whom all the others come to for advice, Robin is the sexy, glamour-obsessed pretty one who Really Gets Around, and Bernadine is the sweet, naive one.
  • Hollywood Law: If you want to see how what Bernadine did to her husband's car would fly in Real Life, someone actually tried it a year later. Where Bernadine literally only got a verbal warning, the real incident resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in fines and five years of probation.
  • Important Haircut: Bernadine cuts her long hair after her husband leaves her. As he insisted that she keep it this way, cutting it is symbolic of her newfound freedom.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Gloria finds out her ex-husband is gay after trying to seduce him when he comes to visit.
  • Kavorka Man: Michael (played by Wendell Pierce) may be an overweight, awkward, and nerdy-looking fellow but he sure knows how to pull some attractive women. He manages to bed Robin and is seen at the nightclub with another very sexy woman on his arm.
  • Lifetime Movie of the Week: A particularly egregious full-length example, but it's still better than average.
  • The Mistress: The white woman Bernadine's husband was with, and also Robin to Russell, and Savannah to Kenneth.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Marvin, especially compared to every other man in the story.
    • James, who stays by his dying wife's side and waits until she passes before fully pursing a relationship with Bernadine. He also encourages her to pursue the catering business dream she abandoned.
  • Revenge Against Men: This is what the movie is mostly about, except it's more about humiliating men and making them pay for their Jerkassery and their ungratefulness than killing them.
  • Skewed Priorities: Robin is accused of this by the woman from the collection agency. The woman calls her out for her inability to keep up with her student loan payments despite Robin's well-paying job.
  • Stepping Stone Spouse: Bernadine delays her own dreams to support John, working as his secretary even though she's way overqualified for the position. When the business finally starts to make good money, John refuses to hold up his end of the bargain (supporting Bernadine's start up venture), and instead leaves her for another woman. Needless to say, she is pissed.
  • The Unfair Sex: Goes without saying. The movie is so bitter against men that only a few of them have any redeeming qualities.
  • Unflinching Walk: Bernardine sets fire to her husbands car, walks away, and in a painful subversion, proceeds to have a total nervous breakdown.
  • Where da White Women At?:
    • A major part of Bernadine's rage is that her husband cheated on her with, of all people, a white woman.
    • James (Wesley Snipes) tells Bernadine that his wife is a white woman.
    • Also, Gloria's son Tariq. She is seen running from his room when Gloria catches them in a sexual act.
  • Woman Scorned: Hooo boy...

Alternative Title(s): Waiting To Exhale