It’s been a year of musical films with Wonka and Mean Girls attempting to reignite the movie musical on the silver screen. While they worked as movies, the marketing and trailers hiding the fact that they were undoubtedly movie musicals left a sour note with audiences who were blissfully unaware, resulting in some truly hilarious viral TikTok videos of cinema audiences groaning when they realised exactly what they were in. Fortunately, Warner Bros, the studio behind the 2024 musical version of The Color Purple, has not shied away from the fact that this is a musical with some incredible vocal talent with American Idol superstar Fantasia Barrino, Hallie Ballie and Danielle Brooks. While the aforementioned movies had serviceable stories and forgettable songs, The Color Purple blows them out of the water, delivering show-stopping, unforgettable songs delivered by a talented and unforgettable cast who pour everything they have into this movie. The Color Purple is not only a phenomenal musical, it’s a fantastic movie with some of the best actors of this generation who have crafted what I’m sure will go on to be a classic that incorporates Alice Walker’s novel, Steven Spielberg’s film and the Broadway musical.
The story follows Celie and her sister Nettie (played by Phylicia Peal Mpasi & Halle Bailey in their teen years). They live with their abusive and controlling stepfather, who sells Celie’s children and then trades her for a cow and some eggs to Mister (Colman Domingo), who treats Celie just as poorly as her father did. Nettie is sent away and leaves Celie with no support system, and an increasingly abusive Mister devoids her of any hope. Enter Celie’s new sister-in-law Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and a blues singer Shrug (Taraji P Henson), whom Mister is obsessed with; Celie finds solace in their friendship and determination to help her see the world and reunite with her sister and children.
Say what you will about recent musical movies, The Color Purple embraces its music and runs with it. Each musical number is delivered with such vigour that it is infectious. The dark themes of the story about abuse and the treatment of women during this era are perfectly juxtaposed with cheery and powerful song and dance numbers that will lift your spirits. It’s hard to pinpoint a performance that stands out the most, as all involved here are bringing their absolute A game. Barrino and Mpasi are both making their silver screen debut here and do spectacularly. Mpasi has a perfect chilling glare that speaks volumes, this combined with her incredible voice, give the character of Celie so much depth. This is then continued on with Barrino taking over as the adult version. Both feel like the same person and give their all to the performances. Barrino maintains Celie’s child-like wonder at the world while still being beaten down by the men in her life and how this has affected her.
Henson’s character Shrug is a breath of fresh air, the life and energy that Celie needs, and Henson mostly goes there in her performance. While she comes off as more as a diva than friend, her chemistry with Barrito is undeniable and makes their scenes together memorable. Henson’s musical numbers are the least impactful of the story. It lacks the authenticity of the other characters that ground the film, and Henson’s tendency to overact feels like it doesn’t fit here.
Brooks is the almost-scene stealer here. She outperforms, outsings and elevates this film to new heights. Her positive spirit and infectious ability to make everyone around her fall in love with her is an absolute joy to watch. Her story arc is quite confronting and is able to deliver the full emotions of making you laugh uncontrollably and then cry your eyes out minutes later. Brooks is able to deliver this in spades, delivering a career-defining moment that won’t be forgotten.
As the story moves through forty years of Celie’s life, there are often times when scenes can linger a little too long, which can then feel like others are left a little too short. In particular the start of the film gets such amazing performances from Bailey and Mpasi, it is a shame that they move on so quickly. They get two quick memorable musical numbers before moving forward in time. Keep It Movin is their anthem and one of the highlights of the movie. Brook’s girl power anthem Hell No is reprised a few times throughout the story to reflect on her character’s journey to great effect. Barrino brings it home with I’m Here reminding us why she won American Idol back in 2004. It’s a truly moving and dramatic number that sounds absolutely phenomenal in the cinema.
The Color Purple is an incredible interpretation of the decades of material provided through Alice Walker’s novel, Steven Spielberg’s film and the broadway musical. This feels like a true blend of all of these, fusing them together to deliver a truly memorable film that will please fans and newcomers alike. Taking on the subject matter of Black womanhood in the South in the 1900’s is no easy task. It is balanced perfectly with memorable songs and career-defining performances from an incredibly talented cast that will shake you to your core.
The Color Purple is in Australian cinemas January 25th.