Review of The Color Purple, the new musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel directed by Blitz Bazawule. Opening on February 9, 2024.
With a starting material as good as Alice Walker’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize, it’s hard for an adaptation to be unsatisfying. The previous version The Color Purple from 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg, received 11 Oscar nominations, although it didn’t materialize any of its options.
Now it’s Blitz Bazawule who is the director while Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey are producing the movie, with the main objective of bringing this story to new audiences and honoring the acclaimed original work.
The story introduces us to Celie, a young African-American woman who has a difficult life in the early 20th century. Celie is 14 years old and pregnant, for the second time, by her father who takes the baby from her as soon as she gives birth to sell it. Shortly after, he does the same with her, offering her in marriage to a man who abuses her physically and psychologically and enslaves her for most of her life.
Nettie, her beloved sister, disappears from her life by force, promising to write to her as much as possible, but years pass and she has no news about her.
During the course of her life, Celie will meet different female figures who will give her an indispensable boost to overcome her painful existence: it will be Sofía and Shug who will greatly influence the biographical journey of this character.
Emotional Roller Coaster
The Color Purple has a powerful start, and a level of intensity that rarely relaxes: it keeps us for much of its 141-minute runtime on the edge of our seat, showing unapologetically the almost unbearable living conditions of a woman who receives deplorable treatment and her gradual recovery based on cultivating her self-esteem.
The anti-slavery and feminist messages that characterize this story are reaffirmed with a decidedly more daring, colorful and visceral staging, with very sexy musical numbers led by the explosive Taraji P. Henson. Gospel and rhythm and blues resonate in the voices of fascinating vocal performers.
The greatest dramatic burden falls on the shoulders of a devoted Fantasia Barrino, although the performance that has attracted the most attention has been that of Danielle Brooks (the only nominee for this year’s statuettes), who already cast a spell on us in her day in Orange Is The New Black. She is an actress touched with the superpower of making you laugh and cry as she pleases.
Game, set, and match for the exquisite photography of Dan Laustsen (John Wick 4), who takes incredible advantage of the backlighting and the natural settings in which the action takes place.
Where does The Color Purple generate more doubts? In the excess: there are several sequences that border on extreme pathos with the potential handicap of taking you out of the story, while certain musical numbers are pure Broadway, but in a negative sense, to the point that their theatricality diminishes their emotional impact.
Overall, it is somewhat inconsistent in the approach (it is still the spectacularization of abuse in a Hollywood style) and duration (even though it is shorter than the previous version) but it has very enjoyable brilliant moments that talk to us about important themes such as women’s empowerment, the origins of the African-American people, and love for family.
Definitely not for everyone: it will be enjoyed mostly by musical lovers looking for a brighter and perhaps also a somewhat kinder and more relaxed version of a story that always leaves a mark. It is, in any case, a film with a strong imprint of identity and a celebration around the African-American community.
The Color Purple is an uneven film but it’s full of talent. Only recommended for die-hard musical fans: goes from beautiful numbers to others that border on the ridiculous. The whole, however, is satisfying.
It’s a powerful and compact musical, full of imagery, color, and rhythm. Dan Laustsen’s photography stands out.
It maintains an almost constant level of intensity that makes it exhausting at times and other times on the verge of extreme pathos.