by RISHI AGRAWAL
Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls is not subtle. It is flashy, loud and over the top at times. It’s primary purpose is to entertain the audience and the movie makes no apologies for this. And we have an entertaining ride, here, for sure.
Three young female black singers (Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Hudson) dream of making it big. Their dreams get a kickstart when Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) gives them the opportunity to sing backup to James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). Eventually, trouble stirs within the group when the pretty Deena (Knowles) is chosen as the face for the group even though the overweight Effie (Hudson) is the better singer. The film traces the lifespan of the singing group and the individual members.
The movie occasionally seems a bit hokey, but to criticize the film on these grounds is to question the whole concept of musicals in the first place. Sure, the characters spill their emotions all over the screen. A lot of dramatic situations are resolved through song. If these sorts of things bother you, then perhaps it is a failing of the genre rather than the movie itself.
But it still makes me wonder. I was bothered by the same things. Does this mean I hate musicals? I liked Chicago, which a lot of people will say is one of the better musicals of our time. I looked over old lists of mine of favorite movies and found several musicals: Moulin Rouge!, Dancer in the Dark, Hedwig & The Angry Inch and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. So many it’s not just a personal reaction to the movie Dreamgirls. Perhaps the movie actually is hokey.
As long as we’re comparing Dreamgirls to other musicals, something that seems unusual about his film is that I cannot remember any of the songs, despite having seen the movie in the past week. I do not have a poor memory. I can recall the songs in the musicals listed above, even years later, even having seen the movies only once. I do recall Hudson delivering a couple of great singing performances and hitting some high notes, but that’s about it. (My inner geek has to come out here and recall the Paula Ramirez character from the comic book Rising Stars. Paula Ramirez had the power to sing telepathically. No one could ever remember anything about the songs she sang, but they only remember that the music was beautiful.)
I don’t mean to lead people astray. There is much to love in this movie. Beyonce Knowles turns in a fine performance, as does Jamie Foxx. Sure, Jamie Foxx does not stand out as much as he does in movies like Collateral and Ray, but is it really fair to compare Jamie Foxx to himself? His performance in Dreamgirls is a bit more understated, but perhaps this was intentional.
The main actors in this film are definitely outshined by the supporting cast. Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson are the true standouts of this film. Eddie Murphy returns to form in what may be his best performance in a non-animated film since Coming to America. Murphy is magnetic as he struts around the stage, hooting and hollering. Obviously, this movie was made before the great James Brown passed away, but it almost seems as though Murphy was channeling James Brown to electrify the audience.
Jennifer Hudson is impassioned, both in and out of song. She was so good in this movie, almost to the movie’s detriment. The main plot seems ordinary and dull compared to the compelling subplot involving Effie.
For all its glitz and glamor, I worry that this film may be forgettable. It is a fine film, but I wonder if all the attention surrounding the film is because it is one of the better films of 2006. Is it a movie that will stand the test of time or even go down as one of the better musicals? Sure, Murphy and Hudson will probably get nominated for Academy Awards, and deservedly so. But it’s hard to imagine the movie as a whole will resonate for generations to come.