The Color Purple

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Color Purple
dir Blitz Bazawule
scr Marcus Gardley
prd Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Scott Sanders, Quincy Jones
with Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Halle Bailey, Gabriella Wilson 'H.E.R.', Ciara, Deon Cole, Louis Gossett Jr, David Alan Grier, Jon Batiste
release US 25.Dec.23,
UK 26.Jan.24
23/US Warners 2h27

brooks domingo hawkins

Is it streaming?

barrino and henson
Based on the Broadway musical adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, this film has a very different tone to Spielberg's 1985 drama. Because of the songs, the story is now infused with sunny hopefulness, which outshines the dark narrative. While the violence and racism are present, they fade into the background along with the characters' sexuality. But this is still a hugely emotional movie, beautifully played and gorgeously produced.
In early 1900s Georgia, Celie (Barrino) is devastated when her her two children are taken by her father (Cole). He then marries her to Mister (Domingo), who treats her like a slave. Years later, Mister's jazz singer ex Shug (Henson) befriends Celie like a sister, and his son Harpo (Hawkins) marries the confident Sofia (Brooks), who challenges his abusive ways. Later, Celie cares for Sofia when she is imprisoned for reacting to a racial insult. And as Shug rescues Celie, taking her to Memphis, Celie curses Mister unless he makes things right with her.
Episodic in nature, the story covers more than four decades in place that seems cut off from the rest of the world. Since Blacks and women have no power, a Black woman is merely a possession. The narrative's power comes as Celie discovers both her worth and the people who value her. She also assembles a makeshift family while yearning to reunite with her beloved long-lost sister Nettie (Bailey). Songs allow the characters to express themselves; early numbers feel somewhat simplistic, but later ones are soaringly moving.

Performances are very strong, as camera close-ups allow deeper honesty than the script or songs do. Barrino is terrific as Celie, balancing the character's complex textures through a range of situations. Her connections with various women reverberate with energy, most notably whenever the fabulously gifted Brooks is on-screen. Domingo makes Mister more empathetic than a one-note villain, while Henson chomps merrily on the scenery as the diva-like Shug.

The script strains to stir a soulful religious message into the film, which sits at odds with the story's internal ideas and themes. This ties into the title, which refers to how a vivid colour can remind us of the presence of a designer deity. But the positivity never quite makes sense alongside the relentless horror of what these women experience. It feels like the screenwriter is playing down anything nasty so they can get to the happy stuff. This may be entertaining and moving, but it doesn't feel very truthful.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 25.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall