Purple Rain (1984)
Directed by Albert Magnoli
Written by Albert Magnoli & William Blinn
I've seen it lots of times, almost entirely because it manages to crop up on the ol' TV in one form or another. It's the kind of movie people pop in when they're bored yet not wanting to strain to read the subtitles of something like Shoot the Piano Player, or there are enough people over that the only common denominator for everyone is something with a slight cheese factor.
This time, I was with a child of the 80s who somehow had never seen it (thereby rendering false most of those "YOU KNOW YOU'RE A CHILD OF THE 80s IF "-type emails that go around). She found it significantly less enjoyable than Glitter, while I was secretly enthralled, as I always am watching Prince in his heydey.
Weird though he is, Prince is probably the only true musical genius to come around since Stevie Wonder, and for a few years in the 80s, he was on fire. He was making so much good music, under his own name and for several puppet artists (The Time, Apollonia 6, Sheila E., The Family, The Bangles), that he seemed untouchable. Of course, that doesn't mean he has any particular credibility doing a movie.
Fortunately, his ego is more or less kept in check by a decent script and a support cast who, while also not good actors by any means, lend the whole thing an air of coolness. This was Minneapolis '83 small clubs, New Romantic slaves in the audience, Adidas jumpsuits, and that quasi-erotic Victorian goth style that only the Revolution really ever pulled off.
Prince plays sort of a Lord-Byron-meets-The-Fonz character called The Kid, struggling to make it in the music scene while trying to overcome his tumultuous home life and make a relationship work. The Time are his main rivals in the scene, and the plot centers around him proving that he's the one who will rise out of the local mire to become a big star.
All of which is a framework on which to hang a bunch of really good songs and some phenomenal live performances. The cool thing is, unlike Give My Regards to Broad Street (another endeavor mostly of vanity), the songs and performances here aren't filler; they actually develop the story, which is rather surprisingly psychological and internal.
It's a pretty keen glimpse into Prince's mind, and while he's clearly supposed to come off as some kind of superhero, the psychology is well-developed enough that you can understand his unspoken motivations. Not that there's any subtelty to it, but come on, it's a Prince movie.
Morris Day is a pretty hilarious comic foil, and watching him, I sort of wish there had been a bad 1985 sitcom called "Yes, Morris" featuring Jerome Benton as his wry sidekick. I'd buy every episode of that on eBay if so.
Apollonia acquits herself, though she provides plenty of evidence as to why she never became any kind of star. Clarence Williams III, of the original "Mod Squad," turns in a nearly harrowing performance as Prince's suicidally depressed dad.
There's quite a bit of hostility toward the women in the film, some of it important to the story and most of it gratuitous (some even comedic). But in the end, redemption is found and what you're left with is essentially a desire to buy the soundtrack, not to think about the politics put forth.
Enjoying Purple Rain nowadays almost certainly depends on your interest in Prince and/or your "CHILD OF THE 80s"-ness. I'm pretty well aligned in both camps, so I always love watching this movie despite an intellectual awareness that it's really not very good. Come on, any movie with Morris Day in a lead role already has my attention; so one in which he takes part in a "Who's On First"-style routine is pure gold.
Review by La Fée