Whoopi plays grown-up Celie, a young woman abused by her stepfather and sold for marriage to an even more abusive man, who forbids Celie from seeing her sister, the only person who’s ever loved her. The constant abuse turns Celie into a very humble person, who never dares to speak up. The unexpected presence of Shug Avery, the free-spirited mistress of her husband, brings a bit of hope into her life.
We don’t see Whoopi for the first 35 minutes of the film, but when she shows up it really changes everything, and finally we get to see something interesting and intriguing in Celie. Even so, I admit to have had some difficulty adjusting to the introductory shyness of the performance – but once I’ve finished the film, it felt complete and I realized the journey that the performance itself is.
And I see it now it couldn’t have been done differently, given the character and its emotional frailty. Though not the most exciting thing to watch, the quiet, shy, child-like Celie is what makes sense in the context of the film and Whoopi gets it right – her gestures and voice-acting, though not always perfect, leave the impression of a traumatized person, but also of a beautiful spirit hidden behind the robotic-behaviour of an abused person tragically finding normalcy in such a lifestyle.
It’s not a performance easy to judge, because it’s not flashy, but not subtle either. It’s a performance very dependent on the trajectory of the character, living little space for the actress to diversify. The character changes a lot during the film, both physically and emotionally, and Whoopi has to keep up by making the change visible, believable, in the spirit of the character.
Of course, I preferred the scenes from the second part, and the table scene is Whoopi’s great triumph, portraying Celie in a moment of her life when she’s had enough. She’s wants to get away regardless of the price and I felt for her more than in any other scene: the difficulty of having to speak up and confronting her abusive husband. You can feel how nervous she is with the perspective of finally letting all that hate out. Whoopi is fantastic in the scene, superbly demonstrating the emotional struggles of Celie.
It’s not a traditional character for this category, and I somehow feel it’s a performance hard to agree on, especially among bloggers. What makes even the performance a little unusual is that most of the emotions of the character are shut inside for at least half of the screentime; while staying faithful to the character, for a big part of it it seems like Whoopi is not doing enough, reacting too little. To me, that’s just being devoted to your character; sure, I prefer louder, more open performances, but I completely respect this one. I’ll go with a very strong .
Final verdict coming probably tomorrow.