DREAMGIRLS: Power-packed Musical
Cast: Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Keith Robinson
Director: Bill Condon
Time: 123 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Just the buzz about newcomer Jennifer Hudson’s award-grabbing performance is enough to compel any moviegoer to catch "Dreamgirls". If anything, this movie is the American Dream come true for the former American Idol contestant who won 17 awards for her role, including the Golden Globe and the coveted Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? "Dreamgirls" is not just the story of Effie White (Hudson) but of a young Afro-American vocal group in the Sixties called The Dreamettes. Besides lead singer Effie, the group also comprises Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose).
The girls meet talent scout Curtis Taylor Jr (Jamie Foxx) at a talent contest and are persuaded to sing back-up for soul star James ‘Thunder’ Early (Eddie Murphy). The subsequent road shows and recordings are a success – and that’s when Curtis decides to market them on their own steam as The Dreams. To facilitate that, he makes a drastic change: he makes Deena the lead singer because of her looks and relegates Effie to the sideline. Soon, Effie leaves the group, including her brother C.C. (Keith Robinson) who writes their songs. Curtis employs a new member (Sharon Leal as Michele) – and Effie is all but forgotten.
Curtis takes The Dreams to international fame after breaking into the ‘white music’ market – and the rest reads like the pages from American music history (think Diana Ross and The Supremes and you get the picture). Curtis even plans a movie for his wife Deena, while Effie, now a single mother living on social security cheques, resorts to singing at neighbourhood pubs.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS: "Dreamgirls" is also an expose on public relations and marketing in the music business. Curtis sees the real potential in his clients and exploits it accordingly. He steps on a lot of toes and breaks a few hearts along the way but is he really the villain of the piece?
Director Bill Condon leaves that verdict to the audience. What is unanimous is that "Dreamgirls" is powerful entertainment packed with a multi-layered storyline, cool music and strong performances. Condon films part of the narrative in operatic style – with the characters breaking into song every now and then. This tends to give viewers the goose-bumps but it is easy to get used to it after a while. Like the Oscar-winning dance-musical "Chicago", Condon also takes us on a nostalgic trip to the ‘problematic birth’ of black music when white singers copy their songs at will – and make chart-toppers out of them.
However, it is the power-packed performances that make "Dreamgirls" a must-watch and those who complained that it was ignored by the Academy (for Best Picture nomination) certainly had a point. Hudson’s Effie comes out as the girl-next-door who has a huge talent and a stubborn streak. But we feel for her despite her attitude and flaws. Beyonce, on the other hand, is magnificent as the beautiful Deena and she even manages to sound and look like Diana Ross with Afro hairstyle. Foxx delivers first class performance as the scheming Curtis, a rather demanding role that skirts between hero and villain. Murphy does a good impersonation of James Brown but it is certainly not an Oscar-worthy role. That Best Supporting Actor nomination should have gone to Foxx instead.
THE LOWDOWN: For a long time, moviegoers have been wary of musicals which are deemed ‘nice to watch and listen to but a pain to sit through’. However, with well-produced efforts like "Dreamgirls", "Ray", "Chicago" and "Walk The Line", they are certainly making their way back into our hearts and minds.