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The Color Purple review: Fantasia Barrino sings her face off in lackluster movie musical

Though the film is bursting with incredible performances, anchored by Barrino’s Celie, it never really sings.

If one can name a definitive literary classic of the late 20th century, The Color Purple is surely in contention.

The Color Purple, both the novel by Alice Walker and the subsequent film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985, is often considered a definitive literary classic of the late 20th century. The story has since been adapted into a successful stage musical, earning critical acclaim and numerous Tony nominations. Now, in a familiar trend of book-to-movie-to-musical adaptations, The Color Purple receives a vibrant reimagining on the screen.

Fantasia Barrino, known for her American Idol win, returns to the role of Celie, the central character who endures years of abuse and seeks her voice and her sister Nettie (played by Halle Bailey/Ciara). Barrino’s portrayal of Celie is both meek and powerful, effectively conveying the character’s silent endurance and growth. Her soulful eyes convey the internal struggles, while her matured and ripened vocal talent shines in the musical numbers.

THE COLOR PURPLE
Fantasia Barrino in ‘The Color Purple’.EVERETT COLLECTION

However, the film medium doesn’t fully capture the energy and emotional impact of Barrino’s live performances. The studio recording of the musical numbers, including the showstopping “I’m Here,” lacks the raw power and catharsis of witnessing it in person. Nevertheless, the performances of the cast members drive the film’s success. Colman Domingo delivers a compelling performance as Mister, Celie’s abusive husband, portraying him as a wounded animal perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Taraji P. Henson brings vitality to the role of blues artist Shug Avery, and her rendition of “Push Da Button” is a captivating spectacle.

Among the supporting cast, Danielle Brooks shines as Sofia, a lively and resilient character originated by Oprah Winfrey in the 1985 film. Brooks’ portrayal demonstrates Sofia’s journey from a woman full of life to a shattered spirit and back again, effectively conveying the themes of domestic violence, racism, and the impact of the prison industrial complex. Corey Hawkins also deserves mention for his performance as Harpo, Sofia’s first husband.

THE COLOR PURPLE
Colman Domingo in ‘The Color Purple’.EVERETT COLLECTION

While the performances are outstanding, the film struggles to weave them into a cohesive tapestry. The musical numbers do not feel essential to the storytelling, and the score itself is not particularly striking. Director Blitz Bazawule, known for directing Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King, showcases his strengths in integrating the musical numbers into the world of the characters. However, the film’s attempts to be overly cinematic, with extravagant visualizations and a lack of clarity regarding the reality of the characters’ singing moments, detract from the overall experience.

While the performances are outstanding, the film struggles to weave them into a cohesive tapestry. The musical numbers do not feel essential to the storytelling, and the score itself is not particularly striking. Director Blitz Bazawule, known for directing Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King, showcases his strengths in integrating the musical numbers into the world of the characters. However, the film’s attempts to be overly cinematic, with extravagant visualizations and a lack of clarity regarding the reality of the characters’ singing moments, detract from the overall experience.

The narrative reframes the focus on Celie’s journey to self-love, but the film fails to find a consistent tone or pacing. The story spans decades, and its erratic pacing and fluctuating tone prevent it from finding a solid center. While the tear-jerking finale lands, many emotionally impactful moments feel hollow. With stellar performances and the foundation of a beloved novel, The Color Purple should have been a lush and beautiful film, but it falls short of that potential. Overall, it receives a grade of B.

THE COLOR PURPLE
Taraji P. Henson in ‘The Color Purple’.EVERETT COLLECTION
The narrative reframes the focus on Celie’s journey to self-love, but the film fails to find a consistent tone or pacing. The story spans decades, and its erratic pacing and fluctuating tone prevent it from finding a solid center. While the tear-jerking finale lands, many emotionally impactful moments feel hollow. With stellar performances and the foundation of a beloved novel, The Color Purple should have been a lush and beautiful film, but it falls short of that potential. Overall, it receives a grade of B.

The Color Purple should be as lush and beautiful as its titular hue. Instead, it’s just… here. Grade: B

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