The Color Purple – Movie Review

A bold new take on the beloved classic?

What’s it about?

A film adaptation of the musical adaptation of the book (not to be confused with the earlier film adaptation), The Color Purple follows the life and (incredibly trying) times of a woman in early 20th century Georgia through her traumatic childhood, abusive marriage, and her long and hard-fought struggle for independence.

What’d we think?

The Color Purple is insistently subtitled as “a bold new take on the beloved classic” and while I can’t argue with the accuracy of that statement, the movie’s confidence doesn’t equate to anything terribly special. The original novel is a wonderfully written, Pulitzer-prize-winning work of literary fiction that’s already been adapted into a beautiful film, and more recently adapted into a musical (that I don’t feel qualified to comment on, but by all accounts is quite good). The key term I keep revisiting when thinking about this latest version is “unnecessary”. While this may sound harsh, especially given that the movie has several praise-worthy elements, I cannot for the life of me figure out who this movie is supposed to be for.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, read the book or watch the vastly superior 1985 film (Spielberg’s early foray into more dramatic work). If you’ve read the book or seen the film, I can’t recommend this movie. If you’re a fan of the musical, you’ve probably already seen the musical – a film adaptation that removes a good number of the songs to fit around the narrative probably isn’t going to be for you.

This bold new take is ostensibly a film adaptation of the musical but simply feels like an inferior film adaptation, with songs from the musical forcibly inserted into their place in the narrative. It’s not a great observation that you could excise the songs from the movie and not lose any narrative flow, with the moments where the film shifts gears to musical sequences being jarring at best and tone-deaf to the point of parody at worst. This is quickly demonstrated in the movie’s opening – the film opens with 14-year-old Celie having her second child (as a result of her father’s sexual abuse), has the baby taken away from her (as was her first child), and is then married to (read: sold to) an older man who proceeds to sexually and physically abuse her. We’re then treated to an upbeat musical number in which her sister dances around her in circles singing “Just let it go/Life can never break your soul” in the musical equivalent of “Stop being depressed, just go outside”.

Putting aside the necessity of its existence, the movie’s production design, locations, and photography are uniformly gorgeous, and there are some genuinely fantastic performances from Danielle Brooks in the role of Sofia and Colman Domingo as Mister. Brooks owns every single dramatic scene she’s in and is the standout vocal performer (and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not even close). Domingo has an unenviable role as one of fiction’s most loathsome villains, but he so completely inhabits the character that it’s as if he’s forcibly dragging you along with him on his arc.

The Color Purple is occasionally lovely to watch and buoyed by strong performances, but the movie’s tonal indecisiveness and irrelevance in the broader context of its source material make it hard to recommend.

It may be a bold new take on the beloved classic, but the filmmaker's reverence for the source material isn't enough to mitigate it's inherent weaknesses and whiplash-inducing changes in tone.
A raconteur by nature and motormouth by trade, the only thing Pete loves more than watching movies is a good debate about movies. He'll argue with anyone about anything, and enjoy it more than is socially acceptable.
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