Thursday, August 14, 2008
I didn't really know what to expect going into Purple Rain, which I had been meaning to watch for a long time. Great music, obviously, but could it actually be any good?
It actually turns out that it's a great example of a kind of movie that I've been growing fond of lately, that I need to come up with a name for. It's a movie like Demons where it's both genuinely a good movie and entertaining, yet also bad in places, but bad in an entertaining way. And then stuff that initially seems bad maybe starts to seem good later. The line between good and bad becomes some hazy that the distinction ends up being meaningless, and you finally just have to admit that the movie is really, really entertaining.
On the "bad" side of things, you have a lot of corny dialogue and some over-acting (especially all the weird humor in Morris Day's subplot), the ridiculous fashion styles, and some inexplicable story elements (my favorite: Prince lives in a lower-middle class home, still with his parents, yet somehow affords this ridiculously extravagant and flamboyant wardrobe, as well as a custom motorcycle. He's simultaneously supposed to be some sort of larger than life musician but also a down-home boy with a tough family life). I don't mean any of this as a complaint. It all adds to the movie's sense of fun, really creating some outlandish world that doesn't quite make sense. Like it's the Roadhouse of musicals.
And then, what the movie does right, it does great. Like I said, we know the music is gonna be great. And it's not a surprise that it has a pretty slick visual style. But what I didn't really expect was the strength of Prince's performance, and how compelling a lot of the drama actually is. Like I said, it's a little cheesy and overblown, but also throws a lot of neat twists into the formula, and goes to some places you wouldn't expect in a movie that, based on the premise, should really be little more than a vanity project. But no. Prince's character is actually kind of an asshole. He's a temperamental artist who doesn't let his bandmates write any music or give any creative input. He has an abusive father who he hates, but then Prince ends up getting abusive towards his own girlfriend. And then it turns out that his father was also a musical prodigy, and it raises the question of whether or not their violent behavior is somehow related to their art. Is Prince just like his father? Or can he strike a balance between living his art and being a decent human being? I mean, you didn't see Britney Spears or Lance Bass dealing with issues like these when they did movies.
I would also like to single out the editing for praise. Particularly during the music sequences. They do this awesome thing where, during a song, the editing will skip around in time, showing us images of things going on now, things that have happened, things that will happen later. I know that doesn't sound all that interesting, but it's an effective storytelling tool that helps tie the concert scenes to the plot.
I'll say it again, unlike most other musicals the music here is actually great. And it leads to some weird touches, like when Prince's dad plays a melody on the piano, and if you're familiar with the soundtrack, you'll recognize it as the awesome fucking guitar solo from "Computer Blue." So I guess in the world of the movie, Prince steals that tune from his dad. Without asking permission. And at the end of the movie, Prince makes up with his bandmates by writing lyrics for a song that they wrote the music to... "Purple Rain." Which is odd because I'm pretty sure he wrote that song by himself in real life, but the movie makes a big deal about how the song is a collaboration. (An even weirder touch is that one of his bandmates doesn't look too happy when they play the song at the end. Prince even gives her a little peck during the song, and she just gives him a hateful glance. I guess she didn't like his lyrics).
So the good stuff is great, and the bad stuff is entertaining. And who's to say that the bad stuff is actually bad and not just fun? What I'm saying is, good or bad, this is a terrifically entertaining movie.