The Color Purple - Ice Block Quickie

Overly Reductive Plot Summary

Spanning decades and a sprawling cast of characters, The Color Purple paints a picture of African-American life in the south throughout the early 1900's. Life is rough for Celie to begin with, but things get exponentially worse with the arrival of her abusive husband Albert (Danny Glover). There's no need to go into story specifics. If we were playing Racially-Charged Period-Specific Tropes Bingo, every single card would be a winner by the end of the film.

Significant For...

Being another great film by a great director, tackling sensitive issues and doing so with cinematic grace.

Insignificant For...

Operating under the thesis that African-American women are uniformly good and strong and sweet while everyone else in the world is either a vile villain or a bumbling buffoon (or, occasionally, a bumbling villain).

The Entire Film In 3 Images

Elements Of The Film (Ranked On A Foghorn Leghorn Accented Scale of 1 to 5)

  1. The comedy of the film is an ill fit, particularly in the case of Albert's son Harpo who falls down with Jar Jar Binksian frequency. The gracelessness of the wacky-smacky comedic bits creates a special kind of awkwardness. The film looks, feels and sounds like a heart-rending drama about the lives of African-Americans in the deep south at the turn of the century. Then, out of nowhere, trombone womp-womps kick off an extended 'humorous' bit about domestic violence.
  2. Danny Glover's Albert is as cartoonishly over-sized in his villainy as Skeletor. He's so absurdly evil that redemption seems like it would be not only impossible but so cloying as to shatter the film. Spielberg's ability to draw sympathy for Albert in the third act and allow him to do right by Celie is positively balletic. Imagine coming out of Jaws wanting to give the great white a hug and letting him know that we're all proud of him.
  3. Is Whoopi Goldberg ugly? The characters who float around her seem to think she is, but she owns every single frame she's in. She's as ugly as Arnold was a skinny little dweeb in The Terminator.
  4. If you learn one thing, just one thing, from this movie, let it be this: People standing between a setting sun and a 300mm lens just works. It works. And it works. And it just simply works.
  5. Whoopi Goldberg is amazing, carrying herself with the weight of someone deeply in love with the experience of being alive despite the coldness of the world around her. She communicates so much in her slightly hunched posture that half of her dialog feels redundant.

Final Verdict

Spielberg is at his best when he's doing a lot with a little. The camera work is controlled and subtle, economical in form and always serving a purpose. While The Color Purple is not a perfect film, it is a great one. The issue of race is a thorny one and the comedic moments undercut the sincerity of the emotions at the core of the story.

This is not to say that dramatic movies shouldn't have moments of levity. But, when the whole gag is "she's sassy, big and black ... and he's a klutz!!!" maybe you should just skip the comedy.