#REVIEW: “THE COLOR PURPLE”
Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Here’s something you don’t see very often – a Movie Musical based on two Broadway musical interpretations, based on a Movie which was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning Novel. Then add three Producers who were integral in the original Film and/or theatrical productions (Spielberg, Oprah, Quincy) and hire a relatively new Director, best known for working with Beyonce alongside an American Idol winner, a Tony Award winner and an Oscar nominee in the three female lead roles and you get the Oscar-worthy extravaganza, THE COLOR PURPLE.
Set in the South in the early 20th century, the Movie opens with 14-year-old Celie (an exceptional Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) with her sister Nettie (a luminous Halle Bailey from “The Little Mermaid”) singing a song while the banjo-strumming Mister (Colman Domingo) passes them by while on horseback which then turns the entire screen into a vibrantly choreographed big-time musical extravaganza. We quickly learn that Celie had given birth to two children who were sent away to be adopted by her father who raped and impregnated her. She is then forced into marriage to Mister and is treated more like a slave than a wife as he physically brutalizes her continuously. Flash-forward eight years and Celie (now played by Fantasia Barrino) is subdued and submissive. Her relationship with her adult stepson Harpo (Corey Hawkins best known for “Straight Outta Compton” and “Into the Heights”) who built and runs a juke joint is relatively calm. Celie slowly learns to stand up for herself due to the influence of two very strong women.
Shug Avery (a vivacious, sensual Taraji P. Henson) is a well-traveled, impeccably dressed free-spirited singer, hired to perform at Harpo’s establishment. An occasional lover of Mister, she and Celie embark on a relationship. Harpo’s wife, Sophia (Danielle Brooks, who won a Tony Award for the same role) as the very vocal, very taking-no-nonsense and the sole source of levity in the Movie, COMMANDS the screen every time she is on it. Brooks’ performance seals her an Oscar nomination.
There’s much I admired about THE COLOR PURPLE. I always gravitate towards strong and unique women roles and the powerful portrayal of sisterhood by the three leads is mesmerizing and masterful. I loved the surprise, uncredited cameo in the Movie and the screen presence of H.E.R. is a relatively small role. The strong Choreography enriches many of the songs in the Movie. Director Blitz Bazawule succeeds in elevating the stage roots of the musical with bright vistas and aerial shots. And therein lies the rub.
I wish Producer Steven Spielberg encouraged Bazawule to realize that not every filmed musical number must hold the gravitas of a “closing Act One” Broadway Mega-Musical. There is little subtlety in THE COLOR PURPLE, which diminish the power of the lyrics and emotions of the power ballads. Too much of a good thing is irksome. Whereas I genuinely loved the fantasy sequence where Celie and Shug sing together in a luscious Art Deco set, the overuse of making many songs coming from the imagination of the performer just harkened memories of Rob Marshall’s brilliant “Chicago” when employing a similar technique. I am also on the fence of one character’s redemption at the end – it felt like a decision made by a corporate committee versus a creative one. Misogyny, physical violence towards women, and horrific racial prejudice and slurs may not scream “The Sound of Music”, but I value the bravery not to sugar-coat these issues in THE COLOR PURPLE.
As a self-proclaimed Musical Junkie, I loved the Score with its mix of Gospel, Pop, ballads and Blues, and there is no mistaking that Barrino is a singer of undeniable force and the few qualms I mentioned should NOT detain anyone from seeing THE COLOR PURPLE.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release THE COLOR PURPLE Christmas Day.