Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve never seen Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple. Don’t know why, but I haven’t. But I have seen the new version, and can definitively say that it’s a spectacular musical put to the big screen.
Fantasia Barrino (“American Idol”) delivers a fierce and captivating performance as Celie, a homely and uneducated Black woman who has been raped, beaten, and demeaned, and whose children–born of incest–were given away as infants. Her life sucks, and her one source of joy–her sister, Nettie–is presumed dead or forgotten.
Barrino is terrific, belting out tunes and owning the screen even when her character desperately attempts to recede into the background. Equally great is Taraji P. Henson, whose energy is unmatched except perhaps by Danielle Brooks. Colman Domingo burns the screen as well to round out the primary cast, proving just how powerful this cast is.
The music throughout is great, assuming you like your musicals belted from the rooftops. There are several memorable tunes. Director Blitz Bazawule brings the stageplay to life with energy, enthusiasm and attention to detail; the movie is colorful and dynamic, and yet he keeps the story and his characters grounded to reality.
The Color Purple only falters in its final minutes thanks to an awkward, sort of cheesy denouement. It’s the only segment that really feels poorly adapted from the stage, a quick wrap-up that doesn’t do justice to the reunions and connections that occur.
A powerful musical with great songs and even greater performances, The Color Purple deserves its time center stage. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the Spielberg version.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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