The Color Purple (2023) – Movie Review

Between the music and performances, the 2023 version of “The Color Purple” does enough to stand out, but it sometimes falters if you compare it to the 1985 movie.


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Title Card - The Color Purple (2023)

Between the music and performances, the 2023 version of “The Color Purple” does enough to stand out, but it sometimes falters if you compare it to the 1985 movie.

Plot Summary

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Starting in 1909, in Georgia, we see Cellie and Nettie, as Cellie is pregnant with her second child by her daddy. Life ain’t been no silver staircase for Cellie, but Nettie, the gold plate on the banister, is keeping her from falling. Which is why when Cellie finds herself going from the hell her father made to the one created by Albert, known as Mister, Nettie is her lifeline.

With knowing that, Mister cuts her off, especially when she makes clear she will not take to his advances. Thus leading nearly a decade when Cellie is out on Mister’s ranch taking care of his kids, usually on her own. But then enters Sophia, and five years later, Shug Avery. Women who might be aware of Mister, but not his brutality, and both push Cellie to fight.

However, it takes decades for her to get the strength and shame the man Nettie once called the devil to do right by her.

Things to Note

  1. Whoopi Goldberg makes a cameo, but I don’t believe anyone else from the 1985 movie made a notable appearance.
  2. For those who read the book, this version is a bit more openly queer than the 1985 movie.

General Information

Director(s)

Blitz Bazawule

Screenplay By

Marcus Gardley

Based On Work By

Alice Walker, Marsha Norman

Distributor(s)

Warner Bros.

Date Released

December 25, 2023

How To Watch

In Theaters

Genre(s)

DramaMusicalHistorical (1909 – 1947)

Film Length

2 Hours 20 Minutes

Content Rating

Rated PG-13

Noted Characters and Cast

1909 Nettie

Halle Bailey

1909 Cellie

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi

1947 Nettie

Ciara

1917 Cellie

Fantasia

Mister

Colman Domingo

Sophia

Danielle Brooks

Shug Avery

Taraji P. Henson

Midwife

Whoopi Goldberg

First Lady Avery

Tamela Mann

Reverend Avery

David Alan Grier

Alfonso

Deon Cole

Content Rating Explanation

  • Dialog: Some Cursing
  • Violence: Domestic Violence
  • Sexual Content: Implied Sexual Situations
  • Miscellaneous: Drinking

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.

1909 Nettie (Halle Bailey)

A schoolteacher in the making, Nettie spends her days going to school and afternoons with her sister, often teaching her how to read and write.

  • The actor is also known for their role in “The Line.”

1909 Cellie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi)

By the time we meet Cellie, she is pregnant with her second child, struggling under her father’s tyranny, and hanging onto Nettie for dear life as she is the only reason to smile, laugh, and enjoy being alive.

1947 Nettie (Ciara)

By 1947, Nettie has spent nearly 40 years in Africa, working with missionaries and dealing with British colonialism damn near chasing her out of every place she settled in.

1917 Cellie (Fantasia)

Beaten and assaulted by damn near any man expected to protect her, by 1917, Cellie exists, but she isn’t alive. She just makes herself small in the presence of others to be amiable and hopefully avoid their anger and potential violence.

Mister (Colman Domingo)

Real name Albert, Mister is a privileged man who inherited a lot of land from his father and does better than most. However, such a gift couldn’t go to a worst person as his attitude, particularly towards women, is horrible.

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Rustin.”

Sophia (Danielle Brooks)

Sophia ain’t like other southern women. Yes, she is a lady, but from what it seems, she didn’t have the privilege of being dainty or has long rejected it. So, in many ways, she has the attitude of a man and occasionally finds herself punished for it.

Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson)

A famous blues artist from Memphis to Georgia, Shug has the reputation of a loose woman, and her being disowned by her father is well known. However, with a successful career, any man she could want, and usually a drink in her purse? She gets on just fine.

The Midwife (Whoopi Goldberg)

The person who delivers Cellie’s second child.

First Lady Avery (Tamela Mann)

First Lady Avery is the head of the choir and seems to be one of the main ones blocking Shug from reconciling with her father.

Reverend Avery (David Alan Grier)

The head of the local church, Reverand Avery, is an honest preacher, maybe too honest at times, but is still working out his relationship with his famous, blues singing daughter.

Alfonso (Deon Cole)

Alfonso is the father of Cellie, her kids, and the manager of a local convenience store.

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Average Joe.”

Review


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Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing)

Highlights

Different Enough To Stand On Its Own

Being that this isn’t an adaptation of the 1985 movie but a musical based on the same source material, there is more to help “The Color Purple” stand out beyond musical numbers. For one, it feels less like a story about Cellie and more like an ensemble. Because of this, Halle Bailey gets to shine as Nettie far more than Nettie shined in the original movie.

Also, despite what you may expect from Taraji P. Henson, I’d say her version of Shug Avery is toned down compared to the original movie. It’s strange how certain characters, like Cellie’s dad Alfonso, feel more prominent and notable while others feel restrained.

With that said, you can still expect iconic moments like, “You told Harpo to beat me!” but you won’t get “Heaven last always.” So, expect some similarities and moments you should be familiar with, but don’t expect the full line or a delivery as quotable as the 1985 version.

A Soundtrack That May Create A Few Ear Worms

Let me say this: I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the music for this. For one, I’m not into musicals, as I feel like the fantasy of someone suddenly singing less accentuates a moment and more takes away from it. Yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say Tamela Mann blowing on “Mysterious Ways” didn’t get to me. Add in Halle Bailey singing on “Keep It Movin,’” or watching Fantasia cut a rug during “Miss Celie’s Pants.”

Heck, Danielle Brooks’ “Hell No!” also was a showstopper, and while “I’m Here” felt a bit anticlimactic in the movie, considering its connection to her goodbye from Mister, and it representing her finally having independence and standing on her own? It does drive you to want to hear the soundtrack and give it a second listen.

So, while “The Color Purple” may not have a soundtrack with no skips, it has gems that could outlive the movie.

It Doesn’t Wait Till The End To Give You Reasons To Cry

When it comes to the 2023 version of “The Color Purple,” I’d say it spreads out moments that could get you emotional, maybe even cry, rather than hold it for big pockets like “God Is Trying To Tell You Something” and when Mister decides to do right by Cellie.

As you watch Cellie and Nettie bond, Halle Bailey pushes the idea that if she can bring her love for Chloe to a role, she is going to make you believe her performance. Then, when it comes to Danielle Brooks as Sophia? As noted above and below, while some scenes aren’t apples for apples with the original movie, sometimes the actors in this version figure out a way to carve out something not seen in the original.

I can’t say if the Broadway musical version, or touring version, tapped into what we see, but I will say how Brooks handled Sophia being beaten so badly her persona mirrored Cellie, that gets me a little choked up just writing about it.

But, in general, just be prepared for this not to be the kind of movie that holds all the moments that will turn on the waterworks till the end.

On The Fence

Some Scenes You May Remember From The 1985 Movie Are Dissatisfying

I’m not going to go so deep as to spoil the movie, but one of the few scenes from the 1985 movie that the 2023 version does as good, maybe better depending on the person, is the scene when Shug announces Cellie is coming with her to Memphis. The way Fantasia handles that scene has it where you can tell she is channeling a wave of anger that she held back in a moment she wished she’d express it.

Also, the intensity after Colman Domingo as Mister tries to tear her down one last time, and she curses him? It is perhaps one of the first major moments where Fantasia steps from behind the shadows of other actors and takes the spotlight.

However, let me counter that with the fact that they did “God Is Trying To Tell You Something” DIRTY! It should have been such a major moment for Shug and her father, played by David Alan Grier, but it fell flat, and they rushed the song.

Then, one of the final scenes, an iconic scene in the original movie, it doesn’t have the same impact. It may get you teary-eyed because of your journey with Cellie, but it won’t outright make you bawl like in the original. Which I don’t even think is a problem because of Ciara’s acting or the others involved. It just is one of those moments that can’t be recreated and have as powerful an effect.

Good If You Like

  • Crying
  • Musicals
  • Films that take place in the rural south

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The Color Purple (2023) – Movie Review

Summary

The 2023 adaptation of “The Color Purple” stands out in ways beyond being a musical, but while it does have specific things it does well, the shadow of the 1985 version is long and can pose a challenge as comparisons are hard to face.

Overall
81%
81%
  • Different Enough To Stand On Its Own - 83%
    83%
  • A Soundtrack That May Create A Few Ear Worms - 82%
    82%
  • It Doesn’t Wait Till The End To Give You Reasons To Cry - 84%
    84%
  • Some Scenes You May Remember From The 1985 Movie Are Dissatisfying - 76%
    76%

Highlight(s)

  • It Doesn’t Wait Till The End To Give You Reasons To Cry
  • A Soundtrack That May Create A Few Ear Worms
  • Different Enough To Stand On Its Own

Disputable

  • Some Scenes You May Remember From The 1985 Movie Are Dissatisfying

What Would Your Rating Be?

One Comment

  1. Wow! What a fantastic review. I realize that reviews are subjective and I have read a few others(one complimentary, the other panning). I totally agree with the honesty of this one. Having never read this review, I think it’s remarkable that I expressed the exact same sentiments when discussing this movie with my wife yesterday! Of course, I realize comparisons are inevitable. The main comment I wish to share is my continued outrage over the short shrift given the 1985 version even though it had its own flaws.

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