I figured it was about time I rewatched this wonderful piece of cinematic history and write a review of this film. I almost think that calling The Color Purple a film is downgrading, because it really is so fantastic, it’s rather a piece of art. This film, that introduced Whoopi Goldberg, helps show how wonderful a director Steven Spielberg is (along with Jurassic Park, The Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan). The film is poetic and beautiful and features some of the strongest performances in cinematic history (Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey especially). And just like its source material, The Color Purple understands story telling and how to use characters, plot, visuals, and music to express emotions and concepts in a way that few films do.
The film is focused around Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Celie Johnson, who is thrown into the arms of an overpowering and mildly abusive husband whom she fears. Goldberg’s performance is sweet, tender, and beautiful and absolutely powerful as she manages to say so much with so few words. Her body language and facial expression is really what makes the film work, because she has very limited dialogue, but the fact that she can express such detailed and nuanced emotions through a muscle twitch or a simple shoulder movement is absolutely remarkable. There are so few actors and actresses these days who can actually convey emotion without speaking, but that only makes Goldberg’s performance so much more powerful. Goldberg also does another thing that is truly essential to great acting and that is listening. Goldberg listens to other actors as they speak to her, you can almost see her hang on every word, and this makes her character stand out so much more and it establishes the character in a way that is so essential to the story. Wow! That was a lot about Goldberg, but she deserves it.
Also in the film are two other wonderfully powerful women, Sofia and Shug Avery, played by Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery respectively. Winfrey plays the powerful and (just a smidgen) dominating character who marries Goldberg’s onscreen step-son and who inspires Goldberg throughout the film. Winfrey’s portrayal is strong, powerful, and exceptionally tender. There is one moment especially in the film in which she returns to her family after many years, where the audience really gets a glimpse into her character. Margaret Avery plays the confident, spontaneous, and sweet Shug Avery. Avery’s performance is much sweeter and quieter than Winfrey’s, but Avery still has a few moments where she gets to be powerful and loud. Though Avery’s performance is not as strong as that of Goldberg’s and Winfrey’s she still manages to set her mark in the heart of the audience. I should also point out that Shug Avery’s singing voice, provided by Tata Vega, is also a wonderful and gets to show off in this film, especially in the final song.
The film also features a few other talented actors and actresses in smaller roles, and most notable of these is Goldberg’s onscreen husband, Albert Johnson, played by Danny Glover. Glover has a few awkward moments of stiffness, but that is made up for by his wonderful dramatic moments, especially towards the end, that are emotional and powerful. But the moments he truly shines on screen is when he is onscreen with Margaret Avery’s character and the wonderful contrast that serves to his interactions with Goldberg’s character. Akosua Busia plays Goldberg’s sister, Nettie, who does exactly what she is supposed to do, complement Goldberg’s character. Busia also has a few great moments, but she truly is the best when she’s onscreen with Goldberg’s character. Desreta Jackson plays the young Celie, played by Goldberg in the later part of the film, and much like Busia she works wonderfully with Goldberg and complements her powerful and beautiful portrayal.
Adolph Caesar also makes a cameo as Albert Johnson’s father (Danny Glover) and despite his brief screen time he adds a lot to the film and compliments Glover’s portrayal. Caesar also has a few funny moments with Winfrey’s character, which is mostly to the credit of Caesar’s wonderful comedic timing. Also in a decently significant character is Willard E. Pugh as Harpo Johnson, Glover’s eldest son and Winfrey’s husband. Pugh has wonderful onscreen chemistry with Winfrey and Glover, but the true virtue of his performance is his sweet and charming happy-go-lucky sense of humor. Pugh also manages to (with Winfrey) set up a great power dynamic with his onscreen wife. Dana Ivey plays Miss Millie, the racist and ignorant boss of Winfrey’s character. And although the character is dislikable (which it’s supposed to be), Ivey manages to mix humor with unpleasantry. And finally Leonard Jackson plays Goldberg and Busia’s stepfather and the father of Goldberg’s children. Just like Ivey he manages to take a dislikeable character and make the character more dislikable and even complement Goldberg’s performance in the mean time.
The screenplay, written by Menno Meyjes and based on the novel by Alice Walker, is absolutely fantastic and seems to capture the characters and community perfectly. The screenplay also uses contrasts wonderfully, and that is especially evident in Winfrey and Avery’s characters who contrast each other perfectly and put their own individual marks on Goldberg’s character. The film also has beautiful character chemistry and interesting dynamics that put so many layers into this film and makes the movie into a community-driven film. There is also a great score that backs up the screenplay, which much like any Spielberg film almost has its own soul and that serves almost as its own character in the film. The cinematography in the film is also beautiful and helps make the film into the wonder it is. With beautiful shots of cornfields, African savannah, and beautifully character-driven camera-work inside.
This film shows off just how fantastic Steve Spielberg actually is. He put so much life, spirit, and soul into this already beautiful screenplay and he insured that every actor and actress in the film serves his or her purpose and gets to put his or her own mark on the film as well. But it is really the three powerful leading actresses who make this film into what it is. Whoopi Goldberg has such a beautifully nuanced and quiet performance that puts so much emphasis on facial expression and body language. Oprah Winfrey also shows off a powerful and strong performance while Margaret Avery puts in a sweet and charming performance. This film is probably one of my favorite films of all time, and even if a couple performances are a little stiff, this film is absolutely beautiful and phenomenal.
Best Aspect- Whoopi Goldberg
Worst Aspect- Danny Boyle and Akosua Busia’s scene in the first twenty minutes I guess… But this is a very solid film do there’s not a lot to pick from…