The Reluctant Critic: Purple Rain (1984)

Film scholar Ian Pickett takes an academic look at a reputable cinematic achievement.

The Reluctant Critic: Purple Rain (1984)


Ian Pickett

4/23/2021 10:30 AM

When I got the call from SMACK to give my take on the infamous Purple Rain, I was morbidly intrigued. Though I knew little about his work, the Purple One has always been on my radar as a significant figure in our culture. I figured my lack of investment gave me an opportunity to critique Prince’s cinematic debut objectively as a filmgoer-- after all, this feature was built for my ass.

Now, after jumping out of a remedial wikipedia wormhole, I came out a more cultured man. Purple Rain is the first in a long line of biopics that a.) make you question if any of the subject matter actually happened and b.) make you question if the film is actually about the star of its vehicle, which is about as stupid as it sounds. Believe me I watched 8 Mile every sick day in school and not once did I refrain from jumping on Google to find out if the movie is actually about Proof. In this case we have Purple Rain: a movie starring Prince singing Prince songs set in Prince’s hometown and features performances from the club Prince sold out in his early years; somehow it’s technically not about Prince? That being said I don’t mind jumping feet first in a cultural gem from the movie rental era and I get it. This isn’t really a movie. It’s a star vehicle for the biggest rock star on the planet who notoriously did not do press and released a movie that enigmatically did or did not tell his life story up until his career took off.

I’d like to start off by asking for my 2 hours back, because that monstrosity stole time from me and I sell insurance. Giving some meta take on how genius Purple Rain is in album, song, or movie format seems a little beyond my capabilities at this point; I do have some questions I want answered. Considering this film ran 110 minutes and took me two days to watch, I think Prince, the conniving fucker, owes me that much:


1.) Where does Prince rank on the all-time list of short guys? Here’s the list as I see it:

a. Prince

b. Frodo

c. Ben Stiller

d. Tom Cruise

e. Mugsy Boggs

f. Al Pacino (Acts like he’s 6’6)

I’ll tip my hat to the camera team who in tandem with the costume department (namely the guy who chose the heels) effectively made Prince look taller than 5’2”. This is a big feat and can be considered the great achievement of this movie. Just like Obi-wan Kenobi, Prince always has the high ground. Disclaimer: my short ass has no right to be ragging on millionaires who are vertically challenged.


2.) Is anyone not doing cocaine in this film? Everyone has this edge to them when they speak like they can’t wait to get to the next sentence. Which I think leads into my next que-

3.) Does a general disdain for the 80’s colour palette shift excuse someone from not liking this movie before it even gets started? I wouldn’t say I have disdain for the 80’s, but watching it get cannabalized by the current generation is really starting to throw me off. .



3). Ok so I’m being told that 8 Mile really is Eminem’s Purple Rain via Roger Ebert’s review


Um ok? Then what’s Prince humping the floor during “The Beautiful Ones?” The lunch truck freestyle battle?

Not to mention Eminem is piss poor in ALL of 8 Mile, barely able to get a word out in front of intimidating crowds where half the room is out to get him. From the moment Prince gets on stage in this movie he literally shits on the world, doing funky sermons and ripping guitar solos. Where’s the arc? I guess there’s a love story, but all this guy has to do is sniff this woman and she’s literally banging on his door.

Worth mentioning: This is the only movie Prince DIDN’T direct.


4.) On that note, I want scripts ordered for a Michael Jackson movie set in Indiana with the following conditions: 

a.) Michael Bay directs.

b.) the word “Kid” is never mentioned.

c.) we Quentin Tarantino rewrite history and Michael can play instruments. 


5.) Why can’t a semi-famous rock star in Minnesota afford to live on his own? He’s playing what seems to be nearly sold out venues and is subject to living in his parents’ basement and getting in scraps with his dad? He rides around on a motorcycle that has to be worth at least 20-30K, but can’t afford one hundred dollars at 1984 rental rates? I know I’m picking nits, but this can’t be overlooked. He’s not in Tribeca.



6.) What’s with the weird doll collection in his room? “The Kid'' has to be the first dude in human history to live in his parents’ basement with an array of strange dolls placed atop his hope chest and still get some. Maybe it was the 75 candles he lit up to set the mood, either way good on ya’ Skip. While usually red flags for the conventionally pursued, this wisdom ain’t shit for Prince and at the helm of his own film, he gets whatever he wants with very low levels of effort. 


7.) What is with The Time?

They get screen time so fast and “Jungle Love” doesn’t even work as a ring tone. And then the lead singer starts working out deals against The Kid and you find out that this is the bad guy? Morris Day? This guy is the least threatening movie villain I’ve ever seen. He makes Stan from JP1 look like Norman Bates. What does he want? It’s never stated at all, he’s just kind of some jealous dude with a pencil stache who hates Prince. I haven’t shaved in days.

8.) Who taught Prince how to socially interact with people? Half the time a character speaks to “The Kid” in this movie he literally just stares at them. Have you seen Prince’s little black book? This reads like a freaking Victoria Secret catalogue. Say less, stare more. Ok next.

9.) Why did Albert Magnoli and his team refuse to find more people that could do the one essential thing to making a half decent movie: ACT! Each scene moves at molasses pacing and left me hovering my mouse to check how much time was remaining for most of the experience. Prince is the biggest culprit of them all, worthy of public shaming in the highest order. RIP to the legend, but a thespian he was not.



It’s bad, ok? Like really bad. Now excuse me while I go purify myself in the waters of Lake I doing this right?


--Ian Pickett, The Reluctant Critic.