The Color Purple – movie review

Starting in Georgia in 1909 and spanning 38 years, The Color Purple is based around the struggles of African-American woman Celie Harris (Fantasia Barrino). Celie and her sister Nettie (Halle Bailey), are brought up by their abusive father Alfonso (Deon Cole) since their mother died some time ago. Alfonso marries off Celie to an equally obnoxious local farmer and father of three, Albert “Mister” Johnson (Colman Domingo).

Celie simply puts up with the abusive Mister, while Nettie flees to parts unknown. Nettie promises to write to Celie every week, which she does. But Mister hides those letters, so Celie can’t see them. Celie is impressed by the defiance and spunk shown by Sofia (Danielle Brooks), who marries Mister’s son Harpo. Mister has long shown more than a passing interest in jazz singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), who visits him when she’s back in town. But when Shug becomes aware of Celie’s dire situation, like Sofia, she tries to empower Celie. Still, given Celie’s innate good nature, she finds it difficult to stand up for herself in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

The Color Purple is a period musical drama, directed by Blitz Bazawule. The screenplay by Marcus Gardley, who cut his teeth writing for TV, is based on the stage musical of the same name. As someone who generally loves stage musicals, I struggled with The Color Purple as a movie musical – even though I appreciated the music and dance numbers per se. In fact, I thought both were strong and dynamic. The singing was impressively rousing. But I felt that the score and choreographed dancing frequently interrupted the narrative flow and largely, didn’t reflect the tenor of the plot. For the first three-quarters of the film, the events depicted are deeply distressing, yet the music is fundamentally up-tempo.

It’s hard to comprehend just how subjugated Celie is and both Phylicia Pearl Mpasi (in the younger role) and Fantasia Barrino play downtrodden with aplomb. Halle Bailey injects a kind streak into a young Nettie. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Nettie’s storyline. Danielle Brooks is a dominant figure as the no-nonsense Sofia. Taraji P. Henson brings a zest for life to her portrayal of Shug Avery. At times Colman Domingo is positively ferocious as Mister, as is Deon Cole as Alfonso.

The cinematography by Dan Lautsen is powerful and evocative.

So, while The Color Purple is deeply moving, I would have preferred it to have retained its essence without breaking into song and dance. While I understand and respect that this is not Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, I still have a greater fondness for the 1985 version.

Alex First

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