Dreamgirls Movie Review
Dreamgirls Movie - A Some Like It Scott Review!
And I Am Telling You...
You should see this movie. Dreamgirls was the 80's Broadway hit based loosely on the rise of Motown records and its most successful girl group, The Supremes (actually not so loosely but for legal reasons, at the time it needed to be "loosely" and the creators would constantly deny any likeness to Motown or The Supremes). What a difference twenty years makes as the splashing new movie musical written and directed by Bill Condon is not only an homage to the Broadway musical but unashamedly recreates the looks and feel of Motown and its now famous roster of talent.
There's no denying Diana Ross was made a star by Motown founder, Berry Gordy. And her counterpart in this movie Deena, played competently by Beyonce is no doubt the star of the group but she is not the star of this story or movie. I was delighted to see that they did not rewrite the story to become a star vehicle for Beyonce (as all the posters and press suggest) because the story of Dreamgirls is really about the personal struggles for its flawed characters set against the backdrop of the social unrest and awakening of the 60's and 70's in this country when black Americans fought for their place as equals in music and society.
No, this story centers on Effie, the member of the girl group who started as the lead singer and was pushed to the back (by the Berry character both professionally and in their personal relationship) for the slimmer and more sellable look of the Deena character. While I can understand Hollywood putting its publicity muscle behind the well known stars of Beyonce, Jaime Foxx and Eddie Murphy, this is no doubt Jennifer Hudson's movie much as the Broadway show became Jennifer Holiday's (who played Effie). Effie's struggle to sing backup after singing lead and her eventual firing from the group makes for the drama and some of the best scenes in the movie. Hudson defies comparison to Holiday's Tony Award winning performance by simply becoming the character of Effie White from her first entrance to her final bow. While difficult to take on a signature song so well loved by another performer, you don't even think about comparing the two performers because you're so engrossed by Hudson's nuanced performance. This may be her first movie but her abilities suggest that it was just Hollywood who hadn't seen or celebrated her talents that were lying in wait to dazzle and move us.
Eddie Murphy's performance as James Thunder Early, a James Brown turned Marvin Gaye by the Berry character, Curtis (played by Jaime Foxx) is the other standout performance. Not because as Oprah suggested that no one knew that Eddie Murphy could turn in a performance like this singing and dancing. Anyone who has lived on the planet more than twenty years and saw Murphy's early work on Saturday Night Live, his specials and early movies know that he was more than capable of this work, we are all just so thankful to see his true genius again now that he is no longer hiding behind less than great comedy franchises like Doctor Doolittle.
The disappointing performance for me was Jamie Foxx who seemed unsure of his place in this movie and possibly miscast. Curtis is a dynamic, wheeler-dealer with a vision. You have to love, hate and fear Curtis. Foxx as Curtis only hits the right note in his version of When I First Saw You as the music mogul losing his grip on his now wife, Deena who he has spent his life and love creating. He has no fire in his performance but the real firing should have been to the person who did his first wig in the movie. While all the wigs (for the men and women) are amazing in this movie, Foxx's first wig looks like a bargain basement hair hat that sits on his head as awkwardly as the role sits on him. Good news, his wigs get better through the movie.
The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by the third Dream, Lorrell, played to perfection by a bubbly Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover as James Early's first manager and Keith Robinson as CC, Effie's songwriting brother. Both men turn in strong performances as well.
Bill Condon obviously knows what he's doing here in his script and direction. His balance of the theatrical without us feeling as though we're watching a Broadway play that someone simply filmed deserves high marks. Utilizing dramatic blackouts at the end of some scenes (reminiscent of the old film Auntie Mame) with a mixture of modern day film techniques moves the piece like a freight train. But for me, some of his biggest kudos deserved come from figuring out a plausible way to get the characters on an actual stage for some of the more dramatic numbers in the movie to create a heightened sense of the theatrical while being perfectly believable. Nice!
Is it a "must see" film? Yes but there are a few missteps that keep it from being perfection. And you know you're reading this to get some nit picky Some Like It Scott bitchiness so here it comes...Sometimes the editing and transitions from one scene to the next are jarring and seem to move too fast. Using footage of what was going on with society in terms of race riots, etc. seem to have been added at the last minute so they seem to be put in too randomly and therefore aren't as effective as you'd like them to be as a transition piece. Also, there are moments when a character is singing and yet during important moments of the song and emotion being expressed, the camera moves to the reaction of the person listening instead of singing. At these moments, you just want to yank the camera back over to the person doing the singing. In Hudson's tour de force performance of And I Am Telling You, it becomes apparent that she was put in flat shoes so that she would be shorter than Foxx but the director seems to struggle in wanting to show her in a full shot (but then you see her looking dumpy with the bad shoes) and making her look good by going for a close up. This struggle goes back and forth throughout the number, trying desperately to only give you quick glances at the long shot and then back to the close up which is annoying but not as bad as when the "big tire" from Cats, complete with lights, starts rising above her head toward the end of the number when Effie is supposed to be in a theater by herself at this point and no piece of theatrical lighting or staging has moved throughout the rest of the number.
So there you have it, an almost perfect musical that should be seen in theaters and bought on DVD. Are musicals ever going to be produced in the quantity and quality of say the MGM studios in its golden age? Probably not, but thank you Bill Condon for giving us musical lovers an occasional glimpse of quality modern day musicals like Chicago and Dreamgirls. We know you love Sweet Charity and it was recently revived on Broadway...any chance of seeing that as the next Condon musical classic?
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