THE COLOR PURPLE: One of 2023's best saved for last.
“You gone an hour, feel like a lifetime for me.”
“I know. That’s why I gots to come back. Nobody loves me like you do.”
Blitz Bazawule’s THE COLOR PURPLE was released just before the new year, and this final theatrical offering from Warner Brothers will make you want to sing, tap your foot, and in my case cry.
Adapted from Alice Walker’s acclaimed 1982 novel which was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film and, in turn, subsequent Broadway adaptation in 2005, THE COLOR PURPLE is a triumph of the human spirit and the bonds of womanhood.
In early-1900s sisters Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) and Nettie (Halle Bailey, 2023’s THE LITTLE MERMAID) are the best of friends. Celie is about to give birth to her second child by her abusive father, and is soon sold off into marriage to a local cretin with several kids of his own, Albert “Mister” Johnson (Colman Domingo).
“MIster” abuses Celie, and soon tries his hand at Nettie who rebuffs his advances. Angered, Mister throws Nettie out and threatens to kill her if she ever comes back.
Through the years, Celie (now played by Fantasia Monique Barrino aka Grammy-winning artist Fantasia) lives under the abusive thumb of “Mister”, constantly wondering where her babies and sister went.
Soon, Mister’s oldest son Harpo (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON’s Corey Hawkins) brings his new wife around, the out-spoken and strong-willed Sofia (Danielle Brooks, HBO’s “Peacemaker”). He wants to build a bar on the bayou, and his first guest of honor is the legendary Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson, Fox’s “Empire”).
Shug is an old flame of Mister’s, and she and Celie hit it off, becoming fast friends as Shug and Sofia help to teach Celie to put her foot down and become her own woman. Through years of hardship, turmoil, and joy these women grow closer and watch the world (and their lives) change around them, eventually helping Celie to not only find the decades worth of letters that Nettie had written her, but helping her to get in touch with her sister…and her inner woman.
THE COLOR PURPLE is an outstandingly beautiful film, well-shot, making the Georgia swamps and country come alive with eye-popping colors and a texture that borders on authentic and stage-set dreamy, as if you can almost see the curtains behind these performers.
We have been lucky at the end of 2023 to be blessed with two musicals from Warner Brothers in the form of the charming WONKA and the dazzling COLOR PURPLE, but of course the latter has the benefit of being a well-established musical to explain why it has the more iconic songs.
Either way, both have gone to great lengths to show that musicals aren’t just streaming fodder but can still be authentic theatrical experiences.
There’s no easy way to praise just one member of the cast here, but special attention should go to Danielle Brooks’s Sofia and her boisterous “Hell No!” she sings with Fantasia’s Celie as well as the ensemble “Miss Celie’s Pants” and of course the moving and emotional title track “The Color Purple” which comes at the film’s absolutely tear-jerking, lip-quivering, finale.
Taraji P. Henson has long been overdue a major role like this on the big screen, and she eats up every scene as Shug Avery. Halle Bailey’s Nettie has a handful of show-stopping scenes, and it almost makes me regret not seeing her in THE LITTLE MERMAID because she has a stellar screen presence.
Fantasia’s lead role will no doubt land her a few awards come Oscar / Globe Season. She is every bit a powerhouse as an actor as she is a singer.
And finally, Colman Domingo has been on a roll in recent years from his mainstream breakout in AMC’s “Fear The Walking Dead” as the villainous Mr. Strand to 2021’s CANDYMAN reboot as well as a plethora of other roles across TV, film, streaming, and the stage.
THE COLOR PURPLE has it’s darker moments, but never gets too oppressive. It hints at more than it tells, which in this specific regard as a somewhat upbeat and joyous musical makes sense, but it doesn’t shy away from the harshness that women- especially women of color- faced in these times and still struggle with today.
Genuinely just a great movie, and the soundtrack will stick with you for a while, trust me.
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