By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Sisters try to reunite.
Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) is a young black woman living in rural Georgia during the early 1900’s. She gets stuck in an arranged marriage to Albert (Danny Glover) who is abusive and has more of an interest in her younger sister Nettie (Akosua Busia). When Nettie comes to visit them Albert tries to rape her and when she is able to fight him off it enrages him and her throws her out of the house and refuses to let the two sisters ever talk to each other again. Nettie makes efforts to contact Celie through letters, but Albert seizes them and takes them away before Celie can read them. Eventually Celie adjusts to the domineering ways of her husband until she becomes friends with Shug (Margaret Avery) who gives her the strength and confidence to stand up to him.
I have never read the Alice Walker novel from which this film is based, but I feel it would’ve worked better had Steven Spielberg not directed it as it unfortunately gets too much of the patented Spielberg treatment. Every scene reeks of a Hollywoodnized glossiness and certain scenes are so manipulative sappy that it becomes almost painful to watch. The musical score is overplayed and not reminiscent of the time period. A similar film like Sounder worked better because most of the scenes had no background music and was a better reflection of a quieter and slower paced era.
There are also moments of cute comedy, which seems a bit out-of-place and confuses what the underlying intent of the production was. Are the filmmakers trying to make a genuine recreation of a bygone era, or simply entertainment fluff and at points it gets very merged and hard to tell. This film also had some of the tackiest snow scenes I have ever seen. It looks like white stuff that was simply spray painted onto the ground and the shot showing snow falling while there is bright green foliage on all of the trees looks so ridiculous and I wondered why they had even bothered. Also, when talking about someone in a mocking manner as Celie and Nette do about Albert it is probably wise to at least close the bedroom door and make sure the source of your mockery isn’t standing right outside listening in.
Goldberg is good in an uncharacteristically restrained performance although her character is so extremely submissive that it frustrates the viewer and makes you want to reach out and shake her. Oprah Winfrey is quite engaging and simply watching the way she walks up the dirt road driveway when she first appears is a hoot. The scene where she is attacked by an angry mob of white people is the best dramatic moment of the whole film. Avery is also good simply because of her great singing voice and her vibrant rendition of ‘Sister’ is excellent although the ‘sing-off’ that she has near the end with a gospel church choir gets to be too much.
Glover gives one of his best performances and looks so much younger especially at the beginning that I had to do a double-take when I first spotted him. I liked the way that he is shown as domineering and cruel with Celie, but when out in the public he is quite intimidated and quiet with everyone else. Adolph Caesar who plays Albert’s father is a real scene stealer especially with his reaction to a glass of water that has Celie’s spit in it and the glib comments that he makes at the dinner table during a family confrontation.
The production values are great, but Spielberg over-directs and it becomes too slick for its own good. The story is never allowed to breathe on its own and a little more of a gritty, raw style was needed. The movie also goes on too long and takes a few too many tangents.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: December 18, 1985
Runtime: 2Hours 34Minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Studio: Amblin Entertainment
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray