Forty years ago, Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Two years later it was made into a major motion picture starring Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Oprah Winfrey (A Wrinkle In Time), and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon). Directed by Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), it was nominated for ten Academy Awards. Twenty years after that, it became a Broadway Musical that ran from 2005 until 2008, and the revival opened in late 2015 and closed in early 2017. This year, on Christmas Day, the Movie Musical, based on the musical based on the movie based on the novel, opens across the United States.
Celie (Fantasia Barrino making her feature film debut) lives with her father and her younger sister, Nettie (Halle Bailey as young Nettie; The Little Mermaid / Ciara; The Game), and is physically and sexually abused by her father. She has two children who were taken away from her at birth. When "Mister" (Colman Domingo; Selma) asks to marry Nettie, he is told no but he could marry Celie instead. Initially annoyed, Mister eventually agrees, and Celie goes to live with him where he also abuses her as do his children. When Nettie comes to visit, Mister tries to rape her, and he tells her to leave. Celie writes to Nettie all the time but when she doesn't get a reply, she assumes Nettie is dead.
Barrino certainly has the singing chops to star in a musical movie, but she also does a pretty good job acting in this extremely emotional role. Domingo plays his part well because it is easy to immensely dislike him from the moment he appears on screen. Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) shines a Shug Avery, Mister's part-time mistress, who is a minor celebrity and "larger than life" to those living in a small, rural town.
Director Blitz Bazawule (Black is King) takes time and care to film establishing shots as a reminder to the audience of the poor, backwater area Celie lives in. His pacing is a little slow but that seems to be deliberate while at other points, especially once Shug comes calling, the movie picks up a little and is peppier than it was before. Cinematographer Dan Lastsen (The Shape of Water) creates some beautiful picture framing especially at the Easter meal festivities set up outside under the huge tree.
Another positive aspect of The Color Purple is the costumes, especially Shug's attire. Her "blinged-out" dresses have so much beading they shine (and look very heavy) and are simply beautiful. The costumes for each character are well thought out and helps to the persona's development. The viewer can see how Celie's clothing changes during the various stages of her life, which helps solidify her growth and confidence throughout the movie. Of course, her clothing store adds a whole other layer to the costume design in the film. They also add color to an otherwise bland color palette, both on the actors and in the scenery.
While the music blends into the story seamlessly, if you aren't a fan of musicals, you might want to skip this film. Even if you are a fan, some of the music is not my favorite and certainly not something one would be humming leaving the theater. However, between the cast and crew, it is evident that they have given their best to make sure this production is worthy of its predecessors including the Tony award-winning Broadway show. Come for the interest, stay for the talent. It is worth the price of admission.