The Color Purple ★★★½


Defensible! Wasn't expecting that, honestly, though it'd been 27 years and my teenage opinions are less than trustworthy. Spielberg's sensibility is all wrong for the material, but from my perspective that's something of a blessing—his reluctance to dwell on horrific details keeps the film from sliding headlong into miserablism, and he continually finds arresting, purely visual alternatives, e.g. having Mister's body obscure Celie when he steps forward to greet Nettie. (There's also a cut to an empty rocking chair that may be the biggest laugh I've experienced all year.) And while I was fairly cringing in anticipation of Whoopi Goldberg's arrival, she gives a genuine performance here, acting almost exclusively with her eyes—sometimes bashful, sometimes murderous—until the time finally comes for Celie to stand up tall (at which point she does suddenly sound like she's on The View). Everything's arguably a bit too pretty, and Spielberg finally succumbs to mawkishness once the tables are turned; the last half hour is one bad idea after another, from Sofia's instant reversion to her former feisty self to Shug's gospel-duel rapprochement with Mean Preacher Dad. (Not having read the book, I can't be certain Walker isn't to blame for some of this nonsense. Judging from the Wiki-synopsis, she did have Mister save all of Nettie's letters rather than simply burn them, which scores at least 8/10 on the implausible plot device scale.) Mostly, though, it's a deeply felt melodrama that earns its tears honestly, and if ever I'm inclined to award bonus points for worthiness, it's to a big-budget movie about the lives of black women, courageously made by Hollywood's biggest meal ticket. Asking him to extend that courage to explicit lesbianism might be asking too much.