The Color Purple Review

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Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The Color Purple is about as perfect as a movie can get. Draped in a harsh yet inviting aesthetic, Spielberg crafted a sincere story of sisterhood propelled by flawless casting and an angelic score. It’s a film that I never tire of revisiting if only to experience that uplifting ending all over again. It’s almost unfair to compare Spielberg’s film with this new version of The Color Purple, especially since it’s not a straight-up remake. It’s an adaptation of the Tony-winning stage musical, which has been somewhat downplayed in the trailers. It’s the music that gives Blitz Bazawule’s film a life of its own, presenting a familiar story in an invigorating light.

Fantasia Barrino has played Celie in more than one production of the stage musical. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that she does the role justice on film as well. What might surprise some is that The Color Purple marks Barrino’s cinematic debut. Having won American Idol almost 20 years ago, you’d think she would’ve arrived on the big screen around the same time as Jennifer Hudson. Barrino was initially reluctant to play Celie again, but Bazawule convinced her to revisit the role. Watching Barrino in the film, you can sense the years she’s spent growing with this character. This benefits the performance as we convincingly see Celie mature from a submissive teenager to an independent woman.

Most modern movie musicals have at least one weak link, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in The Color Purple who isn’t giving 150%. Colman Domingo, who can do little wrong, makes for a chilling yet charismatic “Mister,” Celie’s abusive husband who may have a shred of humanity in him. Celie is compelled to save herself through the friendship of two women. Although Celie spends most of the film separated from her sister Nettie (Halle Bailey), the audience can feel their unbreakable bond even when miles away. Through the intoxicating Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), Celie awakens something inside herself that she never knew was there. The most show-stopping performance comes from Danielle Brooks, who received a Tony nomination for her turn as Sofia and may be coming for the Oscar next.

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The casting couldn’t be more spot-on, even finding a clever cameo for Whoopi Goldberg. What it lacks is the quiet intimacy that the 1985 film so masterfully conveyed. Although we associate Spielberg with spectacle, he’s just as gifted at capturing atmospheric moments that say a lot with the smallest of interactions. This version doesn’t offer as much breathing room, although this is to be expected in any musical adaptation. While moments can feel rushed, Bazawule’s film is as well-balanced as one could hope for given the scope of the original novel and the stage musical.

Speaking of the music, The Color Purple is a soulful journey with every performer singing for the people in the back row. The choreography is equally lively, making the most of even the most restricted setting. Similar to Chicago, Bazawule occasionally plays with fantasy elements, opening the door to flashier set pieces. The film never goes overboard, though, maintaining the raw humanity that made this such a powerful story in the first place. It might not surpass Spielberg’s film, but like a cover of a classic song, it hits all the right beats while offering a fresh voice.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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