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 yearand 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 Dreamettesthe
youngest Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), shy and ladylike Deena (Beyonce Knowles),
big, bold, and brassy lead singer Effie (Jennifer Hudsonare 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 Rosser, 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 yesthe 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