Whether this was Spielberg's most desperate attempt to win an Oscar (didn't work: The Color Purple received a whopping 11 Oscar nominations and won precisely zero) or a genuine kinship with the black women of the 1910s we'll never really know. But Purple is a solid enough film, though it lacks true inspiration and gets a little wandering and lost after an hour of running time (and you've still got 1 1/2 more to go!).
It's easy to see why people fell in love with this film. It's got charm galore, it's wonderfully photographed, and the acting is top shelf. The only real problem is a rambling story (the book is actually a series of letters, often written to God, which was clearly a stumbling point in the development of a motion picture script), which careens from America to Africa and back again, crossing generations and leaving all but the most patient viewer a bit confused by it all. Sample the blurb from the back of the new two-disc DVD: Celie's "search for fulfillment in a world closed to her becomes a triumph of cruelty overcome by love, of pain eclipsed by joy." What the hell does that even mean!? The Color Purple just doesn't have the time to recreate Roots, and it really shows as the film unravels in the middle -- its joy eclipsed by pain.
Known for bringing us both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in their "big break" performances, we are now reminded that both of these performers could at one time act. That Goldberg has since become a shrieking banshee and Winfrey a self-created cliché is a testament to the poor roles minority women are offered in most films. That The Color Purple has become a classic is another testament to the fact that an audience hungry for these kinds of movies is willing to settle for a slightly-above-average flick.
Whether you ultimately find meaning in the "pain eclipsed by joy," The Color Purple is a good enough film and worth checking out. It is unquestionably overwrought, but it is a truly lovely film with a lot of emotion in it. The meaning of all that emotion is unfortunately still up for grabs.
The new DVD release is fine but equally uninspired. The second disc is almost toally unnecessary, a bunch of reminiscing interviews about the making of the film, with few stories worth hearing (except the fact that they spray-painted those flowers to make them purple).
Run time: 154 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th February 1986
Box Office Worldwide: $98.5M
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Production compaines: Amblin Entertainment, The Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Menno Meyjes
Starring: Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Margaret Avery as Shug Avery, Danny Glover as Albert, Akosua Busia as Netti, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, Willard E. Pugh as Harpo, Desreta Jackson as Young Celie Harris, Rae Dawn Chong as Squeak, Adolph Caesar as Old Mister, Dana Ivey as Miss Millie, Leonard Jackson as Pa, Ben Guillory as Grady, John Patton Jr. as Preacher, Carl Anderson as Reverend Samuel, Susan Beaubian as Corrine, James Tillis as Buster, Phillip Strong as Mayor, Laurence Fishburne as Swain, Peto Kinsaka as Adam, Lelo Masamba as Olivia
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