I remember seeing the original cast of THE COLOR PURPLE nearly twenty years ago, in 2005 on Broadway. The musical adaption of Alice Walker's novel was stirring and powerful.
But it pales in comparison to the exhilarating new film version that hit theaters on Christmas Day.
There hasn't been a film that I've FELT more than this one in 2023.
Director Blitz Bazawule, his cinematographer Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water, John Wick 4) and an incredible cast fill every moment with authenticity.
It's the best movie musical since "Chicago" hit screens back in 2002.
Fantasia Barrino reprises her role as Celie from the 2015 Broadway revival and she's fantastic. Separated from her sister at a young age after being attacked by her father, to whom she's born two babies that were immediately taken from her, Celie is married off to the cruel Mister (the great Colman Domingo).
Celie leads a tortured life, sustained by the memories of her sister Nettie, who she loses contact with for 20 years. There are two films worth of characters direct from Walker's classic novel as the film chronicles decades of Celie's life.
Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) repeats her Tony winning role as Sofia. She owns the movie as the joyous, outspoken wife of Harpo (Corey Hawkins) one of Celie's stepchildren. Her song "Hell No!" is a showstopper. Sofia's story arc is heartbreaking and sometimes very difficult to watch. Brooks is excellent. She's a sure Best Supporting Actress winner next year.
Mister's girlfriend Shug Avery is a lounge singer whose return to town launches two of the film's best musical sequences. "Shug Avery" sees the entire town preparing for her arrival. It's hilarious and massive, with Fatima Robinson's rousing choreography filling the town's streets. Shug's arrival at the juke joint and performance of "Push the Button" brings down the house right into the swamp.
Taraji P. Henson is excellent as Shug. She shows great singing and dancing chops and brings compassion and tenderness to Celie, who's starving for both. Henson and Barrino's scenes together are perfect.
In one, "Dear God - Shug",Bazawule slides into Celie's fantasy, with Shug's bathtub tuning on a giant Victrola as Celie circles her, walking on a massive record. In "What About Love", the two women are transported to a huge stage with full jazz era orchestra, slipping out of black and white into full color as the music swells.
Like "Chicago" it frees the staging of the musical numbers from the characters actual world into the much bigger and impressive setting of their imaginations.
Halle Bailey, H.E.R., David Alan Grier and Louis Gossett Jr all bring power to their roles, but it's Barrino that astonished me. As a singer who won 'American Idol" back in 2004, her fame rose and faltered and she slipped back into obscurity before reemerging with her Broadway role as Celie. She's perfect here.
Powerful, resilient and stirring. Watching her find her own footing inspires.
In the film's final act, "Miss Celie's Pants" serves up another showstopper, but it's topped twice.
Barrino's 11:00 number "I'm Here" is a gut punch of triumph and emotion. She stands right alongside fellow Idol alumni Jennifer Hudson and her performance of "And I Am Telling You" in "Dreamgirls". That role won Hudson a Best Actress Oscar. Surely Barrino will get nominated, but I worry she'll lose to Emma Stone's female empowerment Frankenstein monster in "Poor Things". I hope not. Stone's performance was physical and quirky, but emotionless. Barrino's is the polar opposite in every way.
The final song "The Color Purple" is Bazawule's finest moment. I won't describe it here as I don't want to spoil any of the impact of the scene. It's staged beautifully, leaves you emotionally spent and SOARS.
I have enjoyed many films this year, but as I started off the review saying, I haven't felt any film with the depth and power that THE COLOR PURPLE delivers. Well paced, perfectly cast, unflinching in presenting Walker's original story and exhilarating, it gets an A+ and may just be my favorite movie of 2023.