The Color Purple Review – A Rushed and Messy Musical

The Color Purple Review FandomWire
The Color Purple Review FandomWire
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The Color Purple releases in theaters on Christmas day, 2023.

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Steven Spielberg’s 1985 original was nominated for an impressive eleven Academy Awards, though it ultimately went home empty handed. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the film was an instant success, effectively launching the film career of Whoopi Goldberg and earning her an Oscar nomination in the process. Despite the film’s reputation, it admittedly remains a blind-spot for me. I suppose everybody has a handful of classics that have evaded them for one reason or another. The benefit is that I was able to view the newest iteration as a blank canvas, with nothing to compare it against. Still, the 2023 reimagining left me counting down the minutes till its conclusion.

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The Color Purple Plot

Living in the south during the early 1900’s, Celie has had a difficult existence. She’s been abused by nearly every man in her life, but after forming strong bonds with the women around her, she strives to find the strength to build a better life for herself.

The Critique

Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery in The Color Purple (2023)
Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery in The Color Purple (2023)

Also Read: Wonka Review – A Whimsical World of Pure Imagination

Warner Bros. went all in on movie-musicals this year. Barbie was a massive success, Wonka was surprisingly whimsical and The Color Purple seemed like a sure-bet. It’s the type of large-scale cinematic event that critics and awards voters are drawn to. I love musicals — probably more so than the average film-goer — but, a musical is only as strong as the music within it. Unfortunately, the quality of songs in The Color Purple vary wildly, ranging from enjoyable to grating and unpleasant.

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The film opens strong with fantastic performances from Halle Bailey (The Little Mermaid) as young Nettie and Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as young Celie. These beginning moments paint the picture of Celie’s tragic and difficult existence, comprised of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her own father. It adequately sets the stage for the decades-spanning epic, establishing an unbreakable sisterly-bond and a life of never-ending hurtles. Then something happens. Somewhere around the introduction of Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), the films begins to decline and it never recovers.

This decline is no fault of Henson, or even Shug Avery as a character. Yet, from the moment the musical number Shug Avery ‘Comin To Town begins, there is a distinct shift. The care and delicacy put into the story’s natural evolution is replaced with a fumbling rush to get to the conclusion of a forty-year tale. It’s a movie that perhaps needed to be longer, yet — ironically — feels way too long.

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Fantasia Barrino as Celie in The Color Purple (2023)
Fantasia Barrino as Celie in The Color Purple (2023)

The performances are strong, with Colman Domingo (Rustin) and Danielle Brooks (Peacemaker) likely to receive the highest praise. Their characters — “Mister” and Sofia — are layered and complex, but fall victim to the senselessly hurried nature of the film’s final two-thirds. Character arcs are teased and abandoned, and by the time the end-credits roll these characters are unrecognizable without properly fleshing out or examining the basis behind their change.

Blitz Bazawule — the Ghanaian filmmaker behind this year’s The Color Purple — surely has the perspective to view the material through a lens that Spielberg couldn’t, yet lacks the filmmaking mastery that has earned Spielberg a reputation as one of the greatest living directors in Hollywood. There’s a necessary precision to perfecting a movie-musical, and that precision appears to be lost in translation. Like a game of telephone, the story has gone from book, to film, to stage musical and back to film and the end product appears riddled with missing pieces.

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In Conclusion

Fantastic performances and the occasional toe-tapping musical number aren’t enough to keep The Color Purple afloat under the weight of its own aspirations. There are great elements, buried in an edit that’s sprinting for the finish-line. The film’s conclusion is especially baffling, acting as a coin-flip change in pace and tone with no clear reasoning behind the final choices.

5/10

5 Out of 10

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Written by Joshua Ryan

Joshua Ryan is the Creative Coordinator and Head Film & TV Critic for FandomWire. He's a member of the Critics Choice Association and spokesperson for the Critics Association of Central Florida. Joshua is also one of the hosts of the podcast, The Movie Divide.