2006Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy
lad in the most ridiculous hype, the sparkly and unassailable Dreamgirls arrived in theaters this past Christmas—not so much to a clamor of uproarious enthusiasm (you have to remember, that came way before its release), but more to a simple nod of approbation. Hollywood anointed this film while it was still being made, and the final product seemed good enough.
Based on the musical that itself was based on Diana Ross and the Supremes (or “Diana Ross and the Supremes” if you will), the story is a showbiz epic based around one very Oscar-friendly theme: the price you pay for following your dream. Structurally brilliant, the story begins with an all-girl trio in Detroit looking for a break. They find it in car-dealer-by-day/music-manager-by-night Jamie Foxx (his character has a name, but you won’t remember it). Before you know it, the so-called Dreamettes are singing back-up for Eddie Murphy when, all of a sudden, they’re superstars! And then they’re angry, but then they’re rich, but they’re unhappy and, well, they sing about it.
Maybe I’m just not the person movie musicals are aiming for, but I always find it funny when actors hold a dramatic stare right before opening their mouths to warble their feelings. Exposition in rhyme just doesn’t fly with me. What was fantastically innovative about Rob Marshall’s Chicago was that the staging of those showstoppers fit plausibly into the musical fantasies of its bizarre characters, giving implicit recognition to the silliness of celluloid musicals while simultaneously reaffirming the whimsical charm of the whole exercise.
Dreamgirls doesn’t do that. As directed by Bill Condon (Kinsey), Dreamgirls doesn’t put any twist on the movie musical other than to invest it with sincerity. Indeed, the film might even be called bold if you’d so categorize the attempt to make beautiful singing people emotionally provocative. Though I wouldn’t.
But even if the inventive gimmickry is gone, the glitz is still here; Dreamgirls seems even more preoccupied with all matter of shiny substances (preferably the kind you can sew to a tight dress) than Chicago, and that’s no small feat. For all success earned, a large debt is due to the costume designer … and the choreographer, while we’re at it, and the set design team, Condon himself, his team of actors—all parties involved with this movie probably did their jobs exceptionally well. Condon’s technical execution of the material is flawless; the same could be said of performances by Murphy and Foxx, who not only capture their characters on paper, but who also have enough charisma and dramatic punch to carry an unwritten amount of depth.
Flawless is the key word for Dreamgirls. Flawless is what makes it utterly beyond reproach as a film. There’s been the hype, the backlash, and with its failure to snag a best picture nod at the Oscars, the impending backlash to the backlash. It’s easy enough to understand. It’s the perfect movie to fall in and out of love with: flawless and heartfelt, flawless and masterful, flawless and beautiful—flawless without risk or adventure.
I generally agree that guts should trump glamour, and that there were better movies this year (if not necessarily the five that ended up on top), but I’ll also support Dreamgirls as being a little riskier than people have given it credit for. That’s all thanks to two women of extremely unstable talents: Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce Knowles. Unlike Foxx and Murphy, who dissolve completely into their characters, watching Hudson’s Effie White and Beyonce (just Beyonce, thanks), it’s impossible to forget that you’re watching two stars—bigger than their roles—try to develop their talents in an unfamiliar medium.
Don’t take that the wrong way, because the only moments of truly brilliant filmmaking happen when one of these two women is on-screen. Beyonce bursts into the film with a wide smile and a waterfall of excited dialogue, Hudson tremors as she declares she won’t leave. All of what makes a stage show exciting is in the anticipation of something happening that’s unexpected and real. There’s an intangibly wonderful something about how raw and untrained these singers project on-screen.
Though much has been made of Hudson’s singing abilities (presumably by people who don’t watch American Idol), that’s not what wins Oscars. And while Dreamgirls probably didn’t deserve to win anyway, Hudson probably does. The film sparkles just fine without her, but only when she (or occasionally Beyonce) is visible, does the film ever feel alive and awake.
Dreamgirls is currently playing in wide release.
By: Amanda Andrade
Published on: 2007-01-26