What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting
I'll be perfectly honest - I'm not even sure if Graffiti Bridge counts as a sequel. I heard somewhere that it's basically Purple Rain 2, but then I heard elsewhere that it's just a spiritual sequel, like Fierce Creatures to A Fish Called Wanda.
Nevertheless, I think it satisfies the spirit of this blog. The fact is, I know practically nothing about Prince, either musically or cinematically. My total knowledge is as follows:
1) He sang that "When Doves Cry" song, of which I think I've only heard remakes.
2) He changed his name to a symbol for awhile and then either changed it back or just accepted that nobody was ever going to actually call him anything other than "Prince."
3) He might be short?
4) Some people find him sexy.
5) He made Purple Rain, which may or may not be a comedy.
6) Some people don't find him sexy.
I'm going to guess that Purple Rain is a movie about an aspiring musician who struggles with racism, adversity, and his own failures as a boyfriend / husband. And if Graffiti Bridge is a direct sequel, then I'll say it's about said musician returning to his hometown to reconnect with his roots after success jades him and leads him to an accidental drug overdose. While traveling his hometown streets, he stirs up bad memories and comes to remember what drives his inner artist in the first place.
What the Movie Is Actually About
Well, I'll say this much. If it's about an artist reconnecting with his roots, that must be some wild fruit, man.
This appears to be the story of a musical rivalry between Prince and Morris Day. They each own a partial share in the Glam Slam, a hot nightclub in a four-block district of The City that appears to be made up entirely of nightclubs.
Prince lives in a futuristic / dystopian bunker underneath the Glam Slam where he writes soulful music about grace, God, and peace. He also performs said music nightly, which occasionally prompts the patrons to writhe on the floor and rub their bodies in sexual ecstasy. Some people are just really into the Lord, I guess. Although he has his fans, Prince's music doesn't seem to be driving up patronage at the club.
Morris Day, on the other hand, lives in a sweet penthouse in the Money District where he writes songs about... anything else. He's principally concerned with music that will make the club popular and net him a profit. In other words, he wants to run the club like an actual club.
They engage in a couple of dance-offs and other musical contests, and then Aura enters their lives. Aura is a gorgeous woman and R&B fan who may also be an angel and/or muse. She hangs out by the titular Graffiti Bridge, a colorful decorative parkway outside the city, where she writes poetry and attracts Prince and Day's attention.
Through a combination of the movie being rated PG-13 and the characters all speaking in slang that may or may not have been invented for the film, the second act was a little bit hard for me to interpret. I was under the impression that Prince and Aura almost immediately hit it off and started sleeping together, but their relationship might actually have been more chaste. Meanwhile, Day is clearly wooing Aura and trying to get her to join his act as a dancer, but it seems like Aura is trying to sleep with him out of ulterior motives. What those are, I don't know.
The point is, Aura becomes another conquest for Prince and Day to fight over. Most of the movie is comprised of musical numbers by one or both of them vying for attention from Aura and/or patrons. Every now and again, though, an arbitrary bystander gets in on the act. Which leads me to wonder: if everyone is so talented at song and dance, why does anybody bother to go to nightclubs? Most of them are performing out on the street, so it's not even like you have to pay a cover charge to see the action.
Anyway, things come to a head one night when Prince sings a passionate song about peace. Then Aura wanders into path of an oncoming Hummer and dies. Prince and Day decide it's a good time to stop fighting, and I guess the day is saved?
The Stuff I Liked
There's stuff I like genuinely and ironically in this movie. In the sincerity category, I have to give it up for the musical performances. The choreography is fantastic and it's clear the leads know how to put on a good show. I'm also fond of the set design and overall aesthetic. Prince has an engaging sensibility as an art director - every single frame is brimming with color and detail. I just wish I understood what it meant.
There's also a ton of great good-bad moments if you want to watch this ironically. A quick example: Morris Day is a co-owner of the Glam Slam. He wants Prince to back down. To drive a message home, he sets a fern in the Glam Slam on fire and leaves.
...but, dude, c'mon. That's your building and your fern. What the hell's wrong with you? Aren't you just damaging your own shit?
The music is okay, though mostly lost on me. What I found really funny is that I vastly preferred Morris Day to Prince. Any time the two of them have a music-off, Day steals the show and I end up going, "Well, no wonder he's pissed at you, Prince. You seriously don't want him to play that in the club?"
As an actor, too, Day outshines his on-screen rival. He oozes charisma, which makes up for his lack of nuance. Kinda like the musical equivalent of The Rock, I guess. That raises an interesting question: where the hell was Morris Day's romantic comedy career?
The Stuff I Didn't Like
I got bored with this movie pretty quickly.
The first four or five songs are fun and the novelty of Prince's direction is still exciting. But by the time Day starts trying to get Aura to join his band, it feels like the movie ran out of steam. The rest of it is more of the same. It almost feels like it started at 11 and had nowhere to go.
There are no stakes and very little comedy, which means it rapidly becomes tedious. And on top of that, Prince starts injecting more and more quasi-religious meanderings as the movie goes on. I didn't think I was signing up for a sermon when the movie started, guy. And I especially don't know how you can sermonize after that scene where you sang-inspired your dancers into an orgy.
It started out as the type of movie where I was laughing and saying, "I have no idea what's going on, but it's hilarious!" Then gradually I went stone-faced and said, "Okay, I basically know what's going on, but I just don't care." That's a bad place to be.
Would I Recommend It?
Maybe. If you can tolerate a religious message and you enjoy the music, there's some great choreography and costumes going on here that'll get you through it. Otherwise I'd say you really only need to watch the first half hour or so. Maybe look for a cut on Youtube.
What Do I Think the Prequel Was About
Charlemagne, a kick-ass DJ and businessman, opens the Glam Slam in the nightclub district of the city, but he faces a lot of stiff competition backed by violent mobsters. He struggles to make a name for himself and his club. In addition, he is routinely at odds with his two best friends, Prince and Morris Day, who can't seem to get along.
One tragic night, Charlemagne is beaten savagely by the mob and is unable to perform in his club. Prince and Morris Day take up his cause and become regular acts at the Glam Slam. Through their efforts and brilliant sets, they spread a message of peace through the entire district and establish the Glam Slam as the greatest nightclub in the city.
The mob is going to come kill them both because that's what the mob does, but then the head mob guy hears "When Doves Cry" and decides he can't destroy a thing of beauty. The mob decides to call off any pending hits and gets out of the nightclub district for good.
Unfortunately, the movie ends on a bittersweet note, as Charlemagne succumbs to his injuries. It ends with him granting ownership of the Glam Slam to both Prince and Morris Day, who promise to run it together and honor Charlemagne's memory. And this is why Graffiti Bridge is so heartbreaking when it opens.
My Pitch for Another One
Prince runs for president, but is shocked to find that the GOP has nominated Morris Day. Dancing ensues.