Saturday, April 30, 2016

Purple Rain Movie Review

The sudden death of the enigmatic celebrity, the electrifying performer, the virtuoso musician Prince made me jump immediately to a movie I’d never seen before. Purple Rain was Prince’s first movie. He starred in it and of course wrote all the music that his character, The Kid (a somewhat autobiographical version of himself), performs. He won an Oscar for Best Original Musical – the last time that Oscar category was even awarded. Purple Rain has never a bright reputation. It’s no work of cinematic gold and is only remembered today because it stars Prince and his music. By most accounts, it is the best of Prince’s four films so I can only imagine just how bad Under the Cherry Moon must be.

The movie is really not much of a story. The Kid performs regularly at a club called First Avenue. Morris, his rival, leads a musical group called The Time. His love interest is a new girl on the block named Apollonia. She’s a performer being pulled in two directions by The Kid and Morris. The Kid comes from a broken home with an abusive father (played by Clarence Williams III), featured in so crummy scenes that a mirrored later when The Kid strikes Apollonia out of nowhere. This is the most facile way of depicting the ways the sins of the father are repeated in the son. Almost none of it rings true and it almost all comes across as ridiculous.

Director Albert Magnoli, previously a film editor, doesn’t provide much in the way of solid dramatic direction, although the opening montage set to the tune of “Let’s Go Crazy” is electric even as you might snigger from the lofty position of the year 2016 because of the hairstyles and the glam rock makeup that adorns the audience members. Remember Prince was heavily influenced by David Bowie and the glam rock movement in general.

It hardly bears mentioning that the acting is mostly atrocious. Apollonia Kotero received a Razzie nomination for Worst New Star for her turgid performance. Prince hardly delivers the goods either, but I don’t want to pile on to what is obviously not good acting. Truly, the highlights of Purple Rain come in the musical soundtrack as well as the performances.

The Purple Rain soundtrack is one of the all-time great rock albums. And every song plays out almost in its entirety in the movie, mostly in the form of The Kid’s live performances. Prince was an amazing live performer (a fact I’ve been enjoying over this last week since he died) and you can see it in this movie. He’s sexy, daring, charismatic. I also really like the story touch that his bandmates Wendy and Lisa (Prince’s real bandmates as part of The Revolution at the time) have desires to perform their own songs and not just what he’s written. He keeps laughing them off as they become ever more disgruntled until he finally agrees, turned around by the recognition that his father had become a bitter old drunk and washed up musician, to do it on stage. And the song they’ve written turns out to be the title track. For all Prince’s apparent ego, it’s a beautiful touch that the great song in the movie is the one written not by the star. His emotional apex comes as the result of music that someone else wrote (we’re speaking about characters here. Prince actually wrote “Purple Rain”).

Still, there’s a rather uncomfortable ending note that suggests domestic violence and slapping your girlfriend around can all be resolved by a great musical performance and a pseudo apology and explanation buried inside some lyrics. Prince was a brilliant musician and performer. I’m sorry I missed him live and didn’t pay enough attention while he was still with us. I’m not, however, sorry I never came around to the movie Purple Rain. Nice effort. Great music. Let’s leave this one as a footnote in the Oscar history books.

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