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Davis Journal

The Movie Guru: ‘The Boys in the Boat’ dignified but dull, while ‘The Color Purple’ musical too much of a tonal clash

Jan 02, 2024 03:15PM ● By Jenniffer Wardell
Credit for photo ©Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc.

Credit for photo ©Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc.

The Boys in the Boat (in theaters) 

“The Boys in the Boat” isn’t a bad movie. Unfortunately, it’s also not an interesting one. 

Based on the true story of the 1936 University of Washington rowing team as they competed during the Summer Olympics in Berlin, the movie is meant to be one of those inspirational sports epics that leave audiences cheering. Unfortunately, the movie is so genteel and sedate that audiences are more likely to fall asleep than they are shout in victory. There are plenty of athletic accomplishments, and some perfectly pleasant performances, but not a shred of adrenaline in any of it. 

The movie focuses mainly on two members of the team – poor engineering student Joe Rantz, who joins the rowing team in order to earn some money, and the team’s taciturn, straight-arrow coach. They’re both quiet, self-contained men, living their lives in an internal, muted way that bleeds over into the rest of the film. This is the Great Depression, and nobody has any money for theatrics. 

The movie has all the essentials we look for in sports movies like these, including the power of team camaraderie and underdogs overcoming seemingly impossible odds. Callum Turner has a restrained charisma as Rantz, and Joel Edgerton is as quietly powerful as usual. 

But even the movie’s visual palette is muted, and when the victories do come they don’t quite manage to generate the excitement they’re supposed to. Sports movies are supposed to feel like we’re in the audience, but with “The Boys in the Boat” it feels more like we’re a million miles away. 

Grade: Two and a half stars

The Color Purple (in theaters) 

“The Color Purple” should never have been made into a musical. At least, not this musical. 

Technically, it’s not the movie’s fault. The musical was released in 2005 and won two Tony Awards for its 2015 revival, and this movie is merely an adaptation of that version of the musical. But maybe musical theater fans are more used to cheerful song and dance numbers about parental rape and spousal abuse, and therefore are much less jarred by mentions of horrific things slipped into the middle of catchy musical performances. 

In the movie theater, though, it’s an unsettling experience. The tonal disconnect between the musical numbers and the plot creates a lingering uncomfortableness, one I suspect the creators didn’t anticipate. This story should be told as a gut-wrenching drama, painful to watch in places but powerful enough to make the ending all the more redemptive. The music belongs in concert somewhere, on a stage with great acoustics and not a single scrap of plot in between. 

Which is sad, because the cast does everything they can. Fantasia Barrino is great as Celie, beautifully transitioning between helplessness and her growing bravery, while Taraji P. Henson radiates charisma as Shug Avery. Coleman Domingo manages both Mister’s thuggishness and his later broken humility, while Danielle Brooks is wonderfully defiant as Sofia. All of their voices are wonderful. 

But the movie doesn’t tell their stories the way they deserve to be told. Hopefully, a different version of “The Color Purple” will manage it one day. 

Grade: Two and a half stars

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Utah Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at [email protected]