Movie Review: The Color Purple
It’s a testament to the enduring impact of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple that there have been multiple adaptations on both stage and screen. Steven Spielberg’s 1985 theatrical version was a stunningly apt translation of a decades-long tale of a bond that held firm against the interminable storm that billowed all through the lives of two sisters in early 1900s America. The powerful performances by a star- studded cast that included Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Danny Glover, amongst many more, were backed by a superb soundtrack by the great Quincy Jones. The film was an instant hit, garnering 11 Oscar Nominations.
By 2005, a stage adaptation began production, and with a host of original show tunes worked into the plot, it was a massive hit on Broadway. Now, a theatrical musical version of this story is about to hit theatres. Does it have the same resonance as the three others before it, or is it doomed to the ‘remake graveyard’ that studios have been filling up alarmingly quickly in the last few years? I am thrilled to tell you that this film is superb. In a way that could easily have gone wrong, Director Blitz Bazawule (Black is King) melds the best parts of this timeless story’s theatrical and stage adaptations. The film weaves together a story that hits almost precisely the same plot points as the 1985 version while using many of the song and dance sequences of the stage adaptation.
Audiences will be treated to a film that balances the gut-wrenching suffering of Celie’s journey with a multitude of upbeat, catchy musical numbers in a way that never feels out of place. The film is directed with a deft hand, with sharp pacing, brilliant editing (some of the match cuts in this film, wow) and a camera that never stops moving; the storychugs along without feeling bogged down by what could have easily felt like incessant musical numbers. There’s also a very welcome “show, don’t tell” quality about the film that just makes it sit well with me.
The film may be shot excellently, but make no mistake, it’s the performances that make this thing soar. The cast is pitch perfect (pun
intended), with brilliant actor- vocalists like Halle Bailey, Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks (reprising her role from the stage play) present. The beating heart of this film, though, is Fantasia Barrino in her feature film debut. Her portrayal of Celie’s physical and emotional abuse at the hand of Mr. (a wonderfully evil Colman Domingo) is a powerful display of pathos.
You really do feel the pain in her soul on the centrepiece solo song “I’m Here”. Once she starts singing, baring Celie’s soul for all to hear,
it’ll be hard not to be drawn close to tears. The remaining cast is a smattering of some of the most talented black actors in Hollywood, and to get the likes of H.E.R and Jean Batiste is a flex but a very welcome one. The musical numbers are nearly all superb. Songs like “Hell No” and “Shug Avery Comin’ to Town” had me humming all the way home.
I don’t have much to complain about with The Color Purple. Every musical number is choreographed superbly, and the film is never lacking a dash of colour in the otherwise rather drab period it’s set in. As mentioned earlier, the camera is never still. It swoops and pans and is in unique spots to capture the action. The attention to design on the sets (I had to check to know) and costumes are second to none, and the songs and dialogue are mixed perfectly. Somehow faithful to both the prior theatrical and stage adaptations, The Color Purple tells a tale of family, friendship, loss and a throughline of hope that keeps the whole thing afloat. It’s great stuff all around.