15 December 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: "Dreamgirls"

December 15, 2006 08:17 PM EST © 2006 by Digital Dogs
A film adaptation of Michael Bennett’s 1981 Broadway musical, Dreamgirls is both a joy and a revelation. Sure to please just about anyone looking for a few hours of pure entertainment, Dreamgirls is the holiday season’s must-see for all. Dreamgirls boasts dream casting, and the cast, the sets, the wardrobe, the staging, and dreamy music are all top-notch. Director and Screenwriter Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey) has a deft touch and his work shines the best via the wonderful work his cast turned in.

Set in the 1960s and 1970s, with a predominately African-American cast, Dreamgirls is loosely based on the lives and careers of Motown supergroup The Supremes, with a special focus on Motown puppeteer Berry Gordy, played here by the always enjoyable and extremely talented Jamie Foxx as Curtis Taylor, Jr. Dreamgirls provides a behind-the-scenes view of how hard it is to become a star, especially if your look is not what is considered the norm… and in this era, the norm for women was a compliant nature, straight hair, and a Twiggy-sized body.

Dreamgirls follows the lives of three women, Effie White, Deena Jones, and Lorell Robinson, who begin their professional singing careers as the Dreamettes singing back-up for soul singer Jimmy Early. Effie has a powerhouse voice and is the lead singer of the group. Behind the scenes manipulator Taylor is desperate for black acts to crossover to mainstream charts and he transforms the girls from back-up singers to lead act replacing the extremely talented and difficult dark zaftig Effie with an easy-going skinny light-skinned Deena. The puppeteer’s instinct for success is right on and his Dreamettes, now renamed the Dreams, become a huge crossover hit, leaving the truly talented Effie behind.

Denials about Dreamgirls will abound, but remember this story is almost the same as The Supremes origin story. Gordy replaced lead singer Florence Ballard with Diana Ross, who Gordy saw as prettier, skinnier, lighter, and more likely to crossover to white audiences. He was right, Diana became a huge international star and Ballard never recovered; she battled alcohol and depression until she died at the young age of 32 in 1976.

Even though Beyonce Knowles supposedly lost 20 pounds to play the lead Diana Ross-alike character of Deena Jones, and even though she is a delight to behold, she still did not show any spark or charisma on the big screen. From her work here, this reviewer does not expect Beyonce will have a long and fruitful film career. The real performance kudos of this film belong to newcomer and American Idol contestant and loser, Jennifer Hudson, who will definitely be receiving an Oscar nomination for her first acting gig as Effie. Another supporting cast member who will likely garner a nomination is Eddie Murphy, who disappears into his billiant portrayal of wild womanizing blues singer, James ‘Thunder’ Early (perhaps modeled on James Brown).

Condon wisely uses the background of the civil-rights movement to move his story along with authenticity using headlines, news clips, and a scene with a startled Effie seeing people riot in the streets outside their rehearsal hall. Hudson’s performance is fierce, raw, and emotional, while at the same time revealing her vulnerabilities.

fileId:3096224743981604;size:inter;Jennifer Hudson as Effie, at only 25, is a huge talent and a true revelation; this reviewer expects her not only to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but fully expects her to win the prize. If Hudson never sings another song, or acts in another film, she will, nonetheless, always be remembered for her transcendent performance in Dreamgirls. She can act, she can sing, and she will break your heart when she does. When she tears into “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. People were moaning out loud during her show-stopping performance of this song and the packed screening room audience broke out into thunderous applause at the end of the song while people took the time to dry their eyes. Hudson’s is a tour de force performance and she will likely be around for many years to come.

Eddie Murphy, in his most daring role in films to date (thankfully not played in drag) turns in another nomination-worthy performance as a star who has used and abused too many women and too many drugs for far too long. Murphy illuminates Jimmy Early’s talent, his humor, and his fear without dimming his charm. As all the cast members do, Murphy does all his own singing, and he reaches down deep for a smart and nuanced performance that will also garner a Supporting Actor nomination. You heard it here first.

A nice touch was to bring back original Broadway Dreamgirl Loretta Devine as a jazz singer at a wake the end of the film, and to see Broadway’s great Hinton Battle (The Tap Dance Kid, The Wiz, and the special musical episode of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) on screen. Production design and set decoration are brilliant, as are the musical numbers. Since the singing is such an integral part of the story you will not find it jarring when characters break out into song.

Some might say that the score is not Motown enough, but DUH, it’s a Broadway score…, which most typically channels story, force, and emotion through song… as it should. Condon adds a few songs to help move the story along and his additions are seamless with the rest of the original score; he dedicates the film to author Michael Bennett who died of AIDS in 1987. This is a beautiful and sublime film that will bring tears of joy to your eyes. Look for its nomination for Oscar’s Best Film of the year.


Digital Dogs rating: A

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content.

Running Time: 131 minutes

Producers David Geffen, Laurence Mark, Director, Screenplay Bill Condon, Book by Tom Eyen, Editor Virginia Katz, DP Tobias Schliessler, Music Harvery Mason Jr, Damon Thomas, Henry Krieger, Actors Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Jennifer Hudson, Hinton Battle, John Lithgow, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose

© 2006 by Digital Dogs



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