Directed by: Blitz Bazawule
Premise: An adaptation of the stage musical based on Alice Walker’s novel. Set in 1940s Georgia, Celie (Fantasia Barrino) lives with her abusive spouse Mister (Colman Domingo) in their rural home. She befriends stage performer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson).
What Works: 2023’s The Color Purple has impressive technical qualities. The movie is beautifully shot and it maintains an organic and credible look. Musicals sometimes have a plastic and artificial style, especially when the material is adapted from a stage show, but The Color People uses its natural environment quite well. Much of the film takes place outdoors and the film has an organic feel. The costumes and sets look of the time period; this could play as a straight nonmusical drama. The sound recording and mixing are also quite good. The film’s musical performances were presumably recorded separately but the audio matches the movements of the actors and the tone of the scene. The music has an open ambiance that sounds like it was recorded outdoors, giving those scenes an aural credibility. The performances of The Color Purple are also quite good, namely Fantasia Barrino as Celie. She’s a meek character with a quiet dignity that Barrino nurtures over the course of the film. Colman Domingo is cast as Mister and he has a difficult role; Mister is a horrible and abusive person who, for no credible reason, turns his life around. Domingo does quite a lot to ease that transition.
What Doesn’t: The problems with 2023’s The Color Purple are rooted in the source material. The novel and the previous 1985 film adaptation were criticized for the violent portrayal of Black men. That issue remains in the 2023 film and it reveals a more fundamental problem with this story. No one has depth. Every character is exactly who they are initially established to be; they are all stock types and the character growth is forced and unbelievable. The conclusion of The Color Purple relies on a deus ex machina revelation. The story has been lauded as a tale of female friendship and community but there just isn’t very much of that in the film. The female characters don’t have a meaningful or emotionally impactful relationship. The Color Purple also underwhelms as a musical. The song and dance numbers aren’t bad but there isn’t a single memorable musical performance in the film. The cinematography and camera movement often lack musicality and the songs are mediocre.
Bottom Line: The Color Purple has some accomplished technical qualities and the cast is quite strong but on the whole the movie is a disappointment. It’s dramatically inert and a musical that lacks musicality.
Episode: #980 (January 14, 2023)