A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Purple Rain is a 1984 semiautobiographical semi-concert film that now serves as a time capsule tribute to the late pop star Prince. The era is one of costumed excess -- big shoulders, big hair, and androgynous men in eye makeup, tight pants, and high heels -- and unabashed sexual references. Female guitarists wear lace garters on stage. Prince performs sweaty and shirtless. On-stage dances include sexually suggestive moves and an instance of simulated oral sex. Naked breasts are shown, and a couple engages in clothed foreplay with suggested intercourse. The back story features the cycle of domestic violence and its effects on the next generation. A violent and depressed character attempts suicide offscreen. Expect to hear "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "faggot," and "ass."
- Parents say
- Kids say
Purple Rain makes for undeniably uneven cinema, but it's held together by its star's singular charisma -- not to mention a slew of classic songs.
What's the story?
Performance of the song "Purple Rain" is the dramatic crescendo of this chronicle of an aspiring pop star wrestling with family violence and internalized demons. The Kid (Prince) still lives at home but fronts a band called the Revolution (the name of Prince's actual band), which performs at a local Minneapolis club. Singer-dancer Apollonia arrives in town looking for work. They lock eyes and eventually fall in love. Before that, the Kid's musical rival, Morris (Morris Day), leader of the Weekend, plots to have him booted from the lineup so Morris' girl band, starring Apollonia, can step in. As the Kid deals with his abusive father's escalating domestic violence, his performances deteriorate, threatening the success of his band. It's suggested that he comes to recognize that his family's violence must end with him and that his egomania holds him back artistically. When he's able to share credit with his bandmates and treat Apollonia with respect, he achieves a higher level of achievement.
Is it any good?
This film serves as an enduring record of Prince's talent and charisma, but only devoted fans will tolerate the disjointed, clichéd narrative and inept acting that surround his performances. PURPLE RAIN can also be taken as a record of 1980s boom-time self-indulgence, narcissism, male peacockery, and female self-exploitation. With his coiffed tendrils, puffy shirt, lace gloves, eyeliner, and Revolutionary War costuming, Prince often looks part Halloween pirate and part Napoleon. Still, his gifts as a musician and dancer are clear as he echoes the influences of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Sly Stone, and other R&B, funk, and rock-and-roll dynamos.
At the same time, Prince's music presages the work of later artists and the trend in sexually explicit song lyrics. The words to "Darling Nikki" were some of the early examples cited in Congressional hearings that would lead to the music industry stamping parental advisory labels on albums containing profanity and sexual references. The music aside, it's Prince's photogenic face and kinetic presence that make him obsessively watchable even as the rest of the movie flails in mediocrity and incoherence. "Purple Rain" won an Academy Award for best original song score.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cycle of domestic violence and how children who witness and experience physical abuse are likely to adapt the behavior as their own. How does the movie communicate the Kid's struggle with what he sees at home and how it has affected his own actions?
The movie seems to suggest a connection between personal difficulties and artistic expression. Do you believe artists must suffer to create art? Why, or why not?
Could it be argued that Prince's sexually suggestive performances and lyrics of decades ago ultimately paved the way to the open profanity widespread in lyrics today? Do you think some music is written with the intention of shocking the audience? Do you think open sexuality and profanity in song lyrics have taken some of the mystery and romance out of courtship and sexual relationships?
- In theaters: June 23, 1984
- On DVD or streaming: February 3, 2004
- Cast: Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Clarence Williams III
- Director: Albert Magnoli
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for sexuality, some nudity, language, and some violent content.
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award