Purple Rain is an amazing concert film that has a bunch of unnecessary plot thrown into it. I’ve never been too familiar with Prince or his music but I always knew this movie as iconic and just from the opening you can feel it. He’s a fascinating performer from his general flamboyant look to his oversexed demeanor, he’s all you want in a star. This opening as well as the best parts of the film are the music video moments whether that be him fronting his band The Revolution intercut with decked out 80’s fans or abstract montages underscored with a hit song. The rough patches are the acting from nearly everyone, the mellow dramatic story and the objectifying of women.
I was very confused by the basic dynamics of this movie which I think broken down is about the rocky romance of The Kid (Prince) and Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) and his rivalry between headlining singer Morris Day (playing himself). Both these plots have very unclear trajectories and unsatisfying resolutions. Morris Day and the Time are supposed to be the big band and The Revolution are the underdogs but as we’ve seen from the musical prologue everyone seems to love them, we only have Morris and the club’s manager Billy (Billy Sparks) telling us that they’re not pulling a crowd. Also Prince looks like Prince so you assume he’s famous because he dresses so gaudy and has a killer ride. It’s not until he drives home that we find out he lives in an abusive environment with a violent father. The Kid and Apollonia’s relationship is very clunky mostly because neither of them can sell a line of dialogue. They become an item so quickly and equally so fall apart because her goal is to become famous and that chance comes with alining with Morris. The solution to both of these conflicts comes after the attempted suicide of The Kid’s father inspiring him to write the heart wrenching song “Purple Rain” which is so perfect, everything is fixed.
This movie is enjoyable in its badness though because it’s so sincere. It’s played straight faced like the MTV music videos of the day that made up weak narratives to fit a song. The 80’s aesthetic is entrancing with the big hair and even bigger outfits. I couldn’t tell who was supposed to be well dressed because everyone looked ridiculous. The film jumps back and forth between being serious and comedic that you can never tell what to expect. It’s directing style leans towards drama but the over the top performance by Day and right hand man Jerome (Jerome Benton) are pure comic relief and the extremely sensual sex scenes elicited giggles from me. I did find myself uncomfortable with the treatment of women. Not that any character is well written but Apollonia spends most of the movie naked or in lingerie and gets hit more than once. I realize the film is trying to convey the message “maybe it’s not ok to abuse women” but Day does put a woman in a dumpster that is meant for a laugh and The Kid tricks Apollonia into taking her clothes off to pass his “initiation”. These moments reflect women more as objects than people. Apollonia is rough to root for has she has little agency of her own and does what the men tell her. There’s a bad ass lesbian duo in The Revolution, Wendy and Lisa, that stand up to The Kid’s bullshit and even write their own music (did they write “Purple Rain”?) but in one on stage performance guitarist Wendy, who is supposed to be angry with The Kid, mimics a blow job on his guitar. It seems out of character and not something I wanted to see.
This film made me really understand why Prince was so adored. He is a musical genius as every song in this film deserves to be a hit and he’s electric on stage. I don’t find him sexy but the other women in the theater were fawning over his hip thrusting moves. I appreciate him more as a unique human expression. He’s a weird looking short dude with long curly locks and an obsession with flowy shirts and the color purple. I’m glad he elevated this glam R&B of the 80’s and that there’s this strange film to pair with it. I may not love this movie because I lack the nostalgic connection or infatuation with his music but it’s an encapsulation of the time, all the good and bad that entails. We’ll never see something like this made today and that’s kind of special.
RIP Prince but Jerome, you can get it.