BY JACK RANSOM JANUARY 29, 2024
Having not read the novel or seen Steven Spielberg’s multi-award nominated 1985 adaptation, I knew very little about the material going in, though was intrigued on how the musical formula would work with the heavier subject matter. The Color Purple was pleasantly surprising and it delivers plenty of standout performances, well choreographed musical numbers, as well as immersive sets and costumes, that effectively span the decades of these characters lives.
The Color Purple is a musical adaptation of the 1982 novel of the same name. Torn apart from her sister and her children, Celie (Fantasia Barrino/Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) faces many hardships in life, including an abusive husband (Colman Domingo). With support from a sultry singer named Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), as well as her stand-her-ground stepdaughter (Danielle Brooks), Celie ultimately finds extraordinary strength in the unbreakable bonds of a new kind of sisterhood.
Admittedly the first act takes a little while to find its groove and the first couple of song implementations are quite jarring, however once the plot progresses to 1917, from here I found myself fully engaged in Celie’s life and those within it. Her domestic struggles against her vicious husband and the rays of light that are both the hypnotic Shug and brilliantly boisterous Sophia are the catalyst’s for some of the film’s most powerful moments. Alongside the character focus, thematically: gender, race and sexuality are also centrepieces, and explored to raw and gut punching effect. The 140 minute duration is felt by the third act and the sheer amount of characters to balance does mean a lot of wrapping up involved (with the film feeling like it was about to end about 3 or 4 times).
Musicals have grown on me in the past couple of years, especially from the Golden Age of Cinema and most recently with Wonka at the tail end of last year. Whilst not all the songs are instantly memorable, there are some fantastic sequences, most notably the quadruple string of: Keep It Movin’, Workin’, Hell No! & Shug Avery and the oftentimes swelling background score is a fitting inclusion. From a technical perspective the film boasts strong cinematography and the camerawork flows nicely for the dance sequences.
The cast deliver brilliant performances all round. Fantasia Barrino’s progression as Celie is a wonderful turn and a layered arc that sees her go through so much. Colman Domingo is a simultaneously tragic yet forceful and vicious presence, both Henson and Brooks are a winning combination of charm, magnetism, wit and prowess.
Encapsulating the lives of its characters in great depth over the course of its admittedly overlong runtime. The Color Purple boasts excellent performances, the musical numbers have a myriad of highlights and the production design and technical aspects are impressive. It does suffer from pacing issues and some jarring song implementations, however this certainly worth a viewing. Very interested to check out the original to compare.