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The Color Purple (A Movie Review)


Starring Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Batiste, Louis Gossett Jr., David Alan Grier, Deon Cole, Tamela J. Mann, Stephen Hill, Elizabeth Marvel, Adetinpo Thomas, Tiffany Elle Burgess, Terrence J. Smith, Aba Arthur and Jeffrey Marcus.

Screenplay by Marcus Gardley.

Directed by Blitz Bazawule.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 140 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Okay, going into this review I have a confession to make. I have never seen Steven Spielberg’s 1986 classic film version of The Color Purple. Nor have I read Alice Walker’s novel which inspired it. Nor have I seen the Broadway musical version. So, now, in this film version of the musical I am having my first real exposure to The Color Purple.

While I mostly liked The Color Purple very much, I’m not sure this was the ideal introduction to the story.

After all, I do know enough to be aware that The Color Purple is a tragic look at the hard lives of Black women in the south over a period of decades starting in the early 1900s, with many characters dealing with life-altering calamities such as physical and mental abuse, racism, rape, the ripping apart of families, extreme poverty, exploitation, theft, depression and incarceration.

Honestly, it seems like these misfortunes are slightly diluted because of the musical interludes, which tend to sap some of the tragedy and pathos from the dramatic and darker parts of the story.

Which is not to say that there aren’t some heartrending moments in The Color Purple, and an overarching sense of tragedy, just that sometimes the musical aspects go against the grain of the story.

The lead character of Celie was played by Fantasia Barrino, who long ago (2004 to be exact) was the winner of the third season of American Idol and who had a marginally successful singing career afterwards. (Check out our interview with her about her 2013 album Side Effects of You.)

She did her Broadway stint in The Color Purple from 2007 to 2008. (The role of Celie on Broadway was originally performed by LaChanze from 2005 to 2006.) Barrino at first turned down the movie role, not wanting to put herself through the trauma of the character’s arc on film, but eventually changed her mind.

Also from the stage, a 2015-2017 Broadway revival, Danielle Brooks fantastically recreates her role of Sofia. (Expect some Oscar buzz for the performance.)

The rest of the cast shine in their difficult roles as well, particularly Colman Domingo as Celie’s abusive husband and Taraji P. Henson as her wild, jazz singing friend.

The story is gripping, and the production is lovely. The music (by singer Brenda Russell, songwriters Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) is mostly nice enough, although I can’t say that any of the songs stood out particularly as a showstopper. The musical interludes were mostly intriguingly choreographed, vibrant and well-performed.

Then, honestly, about an hour and forty-five minutes into The Color Purple, although I had mostly liked it, I sort of hit a wall. Suddenly it was like, is this movie ever going to end? Particularly since it seemed somewhat clear what the ending would be, and there was a clear path to reach that ending relatively quickly, if the film so desired.

The movie went on for another 35 minutes.

The Color Purple could use some prudent editing, but it was still a mostly good film and will no doubt find an enthusiastic following.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: December 24, 2023.

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