Monday, April 22, 2024

Movie Review: ‘The Color Purple’ Fades Too Quickly

Director: Blitz Bazawule
Writers: Marcus Gardley
Stars: Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson

Synopsis: A decades-spanning tale of love and resilience and of one woman’s journey to independence. Celie faces many hardships in her life, but ultimately finds extraordinary strength and hope in the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood.

Sometimes, talent is not enough to amount to greatness. In the new musical update to The Color Purple, there is no getting around the fact that great talent is on display. There are positives in performance, singing, dancing, and directing.  And yet, it just never seems to fully come together, despite the best efforts of the cast. That is not to say that it is not worth watching, but one can’t help but wonder if some minor changes could lead it to greatness, as it has achieved on both the page and the stage.

The Color Purple, as many are aware of, follows Celie (Fantasia Barrino) through her many difficulties, trials, and abuses of her life, with a few shining successes scattered throughout. Although there are some minor scenes unconnected to her, most everyone who comes in contact with her is basically only shown in their interactions with her, so she is tasked with connections to any and everyone. Sadly, this seems beyond Barrino. She is better than expected from an acting skill perspective, but the film ultimately fails in building these connections fully. Whether it is her true and powerful connection with her sister, Nette (Halle Bailey) or her supposed love of Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), it all falls just short. These relationships are still interesting, even engaging, but never quite reach the heights that they should. However, it should be noted that Barrino’s vocal talents are on heavy display to the benefit of the audience.

The glory of this film belongs to the truly supporting character of Sofia (Danielle Brooks), Celie’s daughter-in-law. Brooks is an absolute powerhouse, both in her singing and acting. She is the one who stands out emotionally, as well as managing most of the show-stopping numbers. In “Hell No”, she is unleashed and also provides a powerful counterpoint to Celie and her growth throughout the film. Also of note, much of the choreography is a joy to watch, full of attitude, swagger, and style. 

Directorially, there is truly a mixed bag from Blitz Bazawule. In terms of shot choices, energy, and movement, there are very few flaws or missteps, even if he struggles a bit showing us the passage of time. Some standout moments include a shot of Celie walking on a giant record, showing her wonder at and admiration for Shug, and the second hand experience of her sister in Africa. Bazawule clearly understands the material and is able to place his actors in positions to reach the emotions necessary. However, The Color Purple never reaches those moments due to lack of chemistry, or at least the kind of chemistry necessary for the piece. Importantly, in Celie’s big moment, “I’m Here”, several unfortunate choices are made. Barrino, as is her habit, covers her face consistently while singing. Additionally, when one hand is raised, the camera always seems to be on that side, instead of the opposite, illuminating her face. It is really a shame, as Barrino’s performance is quite good and should have pulled more emotion than it did. 

The Color Purple, although it falls short in several areas, still amounts to a worthy addition to the canon of movie musicals. There are numerous numbers that are memorable, energetic, and catchy. The real fault is the lack of pure emotion and connection that is present in both the stage musical and the original film from 1985. Of course, emotion is fickle, and some viewers may be swept up momentarily, but I have my doubts that it will be anywhere near as lasting as either that original film, or even other movie musicals of this time period. The Color Purple is a story of great depth which should stay with you. Sadly, this new version, besides the wonderful Danielle Brooks, fades from the memory much too quickly.

Grade: B-

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