Dreamgirls (Film)

Artist: Movie ReviewTitle: Dreamgirls (Film)Rating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Edwardo Jackson

My name is Edwardo and I’m a “Dreamgirls”-aholic. Allow me to introduce you to the movie of the year–and now one of my favorite

movies of all time.

Scooped out of obscurity after a local Detroit talent show by car dealer turned promoter Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx), the Dreamettes–the

youngest Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), shy and ladylike Deena (Beyonce Knowles),

big, bold, and brassy lead singer Effie (Jennifer Hudson–are thrust into the limelight as backup for R&B music veteran James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), with their wholesome beauty and charming dance moves offsetting Jimmy’s pelvis-thrusting bravado. When said bravado turns off mainstream (re: white) audiences on the road, Curtis hitches his star to that of the Dreamettes, repackaged as the Dreams and ramped up to break out of the ’60s white-imposed recording basement of black music for pop music. But as success brings Curtis and the Dreams all that they could ever imagine, it also brings more than its fair share

of problems that tests their familial bonds.

Dreamgirls (Paramount) isn’t just the next black American classic but the next classic, period – black, American, or otherwise. As visually sumptuous a feast as Chicago or Moulin Rouge (if not more), writer/director Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls exemplifies the word entertainment. You will not see another movie this year-or many other years-that is so technically and artistically faultless, with set, costume, and art design so vibrant and beautiful, you wish you were alive back in

the ’60s; don’t be surprised if it (deservedly so) sweeps all Oscar technical categories. Briskly edited to wring out maximum

entertainment value, Condon’s Dreamgirls’ breathtaking pace slows for no one, deftly mixing the racial politics inside and out of the

music industry (i.e. payola and the Civil Rights Movement) into the music-soaked narrative.

And it IS beautiful music, with the singers (Beyonce, Hudson) meshing with the actors (Murphy and Foxx) seamlessly. One of the reasons I’ve

always hated musicals as a theatrical form was their senseless use of song. Nobody breaks out into song walking down the street. Here in

“Dreamgirls,” the songs are actually used to propel the story-imagine that. You’ve got singing arguments, singing montages, singing

monologues, and they all exist to serve one purpose: the story.

That’s not to slight the fully realized characters in this movie whatsoever, just about all perfectly played by a cavalcade of popular

and talented African-American talent. The roster is truly incredible: Danny Glover is appropriately shady as a sycophantic kiss-ass manager

threatened by Curtis’ populist agenda; Keith Robinson (TV’s “Over There”) offers a soft (and musically trained) voice of moral but

sensibly commercial authority as lead singer Effie’s songwriter brother; Sharon Leal (TV’s “Boston Public”) exudes beauty AND hidden

sangin’ chops; Tony award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose makes an

effortless transition from stage to screen as the naive, baby of the

group who grows up fast; and Beyonce draws some stray Oscar talk for

her Diana Ross-like turn as…Diana Ross–er, Deena Jones, who emerges from her reserved, genteel shell to morph into a savvy headliner in

her own right. Although the Oscar chatter is a little overblown, Deena is a healthy character arc in which the international singing

sensation/Jay-Z’s girlfriend sinks her teeth, particularly her

centerpiece empowerment song “Listen” (and it doesn’t hurt that Beyonce is wildly photogenic). Foxx is credible enough as the

slick, “fried, dyed, laid to the side” hairdoed Curtis Taylor, Jr., but he never takes full flight in embracing (slipping to?) his bad side, in all its egomaniacal glory.

As evidenced by

Dreamgirls,” Murphy was BORN to play the role of James “Thunder” Early. He uses the whole toolbox: charm, smarm, shameless “I is what I

is” style infidelity, desperately naked career ambition, the exacting/sometimes disastrous nature of pure artistic expression and, in a turn that will shock some of his detractors, competent, moving dramatic deterioration from the inside out. When he isn’t entertaining you on stage (“Jimmy got soul!”), he’s moving you from within (his

descent from the top is disheartening to watch). In the Best Supporting Actor category, so far, Murphy’s is the performance to

beat. He’s the consummate entertainer.

But yes–the buzz is all true. Jennifer Hudson is for REEL. As in for the screen, the cinema, having made an astonishing film debut that, quite frankly, even shocked herself. Aided by Condon’s confident, steady hand (he put her through a week of diva boot camp because she wasn’t demanding enough), Hudson gives the performance of a lifetime, one glued together by guts, guile, and God-given talent. It all hinges on That Song, the one with “You’re gonna love me” in it, and you do;

Hudson is absolutely a showstopper. As a big girl both self-conscious but proud about her size, Hudson’s Effie “I don’t do backup” White is

overweight, overbearing, over-talented, unprofessional, prideful, loyal, up front, and one who “wants all the privileges but none of the

responsibilities” of stardom. She is, in short, mesmerizing. If the rumor is true, they’ll sneak/submit Hudson as a Best Supporting

Actress candidate (call the engravers now, if that’s the case), which

is a disservice to the fact that she is the heart and (Jimmy got!)

soul of this picture-and would truly give Helen Mirren (The Queen) a run for her money as Best Actress. Regardless, from her pipes to her pluck, from

her sass to her (take your pick: stubborn, divaesque, big ‘ole) ass, if Jennifer Hudson never plays another role (well?) again, she will

always be remembered for, if not unfairly compared to, her Effie White.

Dreamgirls is probably the most interactive

show of the season, having you bounce around in and out of your seat to Fatima Robinson’s lively period choreography. Hands down the most

entertaining (there goes that word again) show of the year, Dreamgirls is an experience’s experience, one that will have you

smiling on your face and singing in your heart.

Edwardo Jackson (ReelReviewz@aol.com) is an author and LA-based screenwriter, visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com

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